Track Selection: Barney Wilen “Port of Spain Shuffle” (Trad arr. B.Wilen) from “Wild Dogs of the Ruwenzori” (1988)
Tenor and soprano saxophonist born in Nice, France in 1937, Wilen first came to prominence at the age of only twenty, when chosen by Miles Davis for the iconic “Lift To The Scaffold” soundtrack. He toured Europe with Miles, and went on to feature with Art Blakey on other French art-film soundtracks, and Blakey’s Fontana “Paris Jam” album (1961). I have always liked his “tenor voice” and melodic improvisational style, as found on the “Jazz sur Seine” series.
Fancy being not long out of your teens and standing on stage with Coleman Hawkins Don Byas and Stan Getz? Or live at Club St Germain, Paris?
However I found nothing of his work on vinyl beyond 1961, until an Ebay search one day returned an unexpected result – “Wild Dogs Of The Ruwenzori”. Eh? Is this an animal charity appeal?
As if the title wasn’t enough to put you off, it seems this record was a near unknown French-only release, what sellers like to call “rare”. More search turned up a fan site, and suddenly a straight line connection from a young Barney with Miles Davis, to a cult figure in France ploughing his own furrow via free jazz and world music through the following decades, culminating in new revival, and fullsome praise for this record from 1989. I quote:
” Wild Dogs Of The Ruwenzori finally establishes (Wilen’s) second wind: it’s beautifully programmed, with straight-ahead swingers, hints of calypso rhythm and a few deftly understated fusion pulses setting a delightful variation in tempos The title-tune and ‘Pauline Extended’ bond Wilen’s solos into a tight electronic framework, but his latest reflections on Rollins in `Little Lu’ and the two versions of`Oh Johnny’ are flawlessly paced and delivered”
Good enough musical recommendation for me, and unsurprisingly, eBay sole bidder. Virtually my only vinyl later than 1970, the pressing is excellent, and despite being French, in mint condition. Great music and he had lost none of his fluid melodic style of playing. Wilen had a cult following in France but remained relatively unknown beyond those shores, and died in 1996.
Vinyl: IDA 020