Tenor saxophonist Barney Wilen was not quite 21 years old at the time of this meeting with Milt Jackson, Percy Heath, and Kenny Clarke, three veterans of the Modern Jazz Quartet. But the young man is surprising mature and confident throughout the session, interpreting several of Django Reinhardt's compositions, along with a few by his French contemporaries and a pair of his own works. What's surprising about this session is the rare opportunity to hear Jackson exclusively as a pianist, as his playing is a bit more reserved than on vibes. The leader digs into his rhythm section's element with his original "B.B.B. (Bag's Barney Blues)," giving them a full chorus before making a convincing statement himself…
Swedish trombonist Eje Thelin and French tenor saxophonist Barney Wilen were two of the top European jazz musicians for several decades before their deaths in the 1990s. They first joined forces briefly in Thelin's quartet in 1963. Based in bop and earlier forms of jazz, Thelin and Wilen were open to freer improvising and music from other countries. In 1966 they joined forces, and two sessions are included on the 1966 With Barney Wilen CD. The first one features a quintet with pianist Lars Sjösten, bassist Erik Lundborg, and drummer Rune Carlsson that is joined by eight brass, bass clarinet, and flute for four inventive Thelin originals. While those performances are excellent, it is the other five numbers (which include second versions of a pair of Thelin's tunes plus "It Could Happen to You" and "Dear Old Stockholm") that are of greatest interest. The playing by the pianoless quartet (comprised of Thelin, Wilen, Carlsson, and bassist Palle Danielsson) is looser and freer with plenty of fireworks occurring in the often intuitive music. This set is easily recommended, particularly to listeners who are not aware that talented Europeans had been playing creative jazz for decades.
Dear Prof. Leary is not only a super-rare and highly touted collectors item but also one of the earliest and strangest examples of the upcoming Jazz/Rock Fusion recordings that would soon transform the Jazz world. Originally released in 1968 on MPS, Barney Wilen And His Amazing Free Rock Band s Dear Prof. Leary l.p. was a sextet of two trios, one playing the more Rock style and the other in the Jazz idiom, complete with two drummers, producing what can only be described as psychedelic Free-Jazz. Highlights include covers of The Beatles The Fool On The Hill , Ornette Coleman s Lonely Woman and Bobbie Gentry s Ode To Billie Joe , scattered amongst the originals.
Wilen was born in Nice; his father was an American dentist turned inventor, and his mother was French. He began performing in clubs in Nice after being encouraged by Blaise Cendrars who was a friend of his mother. His career was boosted in 1957 when he worked with Miles Davis on the soundtrack Ascenseur pour l'Échafaud. In 1959, Wilen wrote his two soundtracks Un Témoin Dans la Ville and Jazz sur scène with Kenny Clarke. He wrote a soundtrack for Roger Vadim's film Les Liaisons Dangeureuse two years later, working with Thelonious Monk. Wilen returned to composing for French films in the 1980s and 1990s. In the mid-to-late 1960s he became interested in rock, and recorded an album dedicated to Timothy Leary.