Fletch Wiley

Ballade Star Song 1977

Spirit of Elijah Star Song 1979
 New Life
I've had some of Fletch Wiley's later material for years, but this LP had eluded me until recently. I expected it to more instrumental jazz, only less developed, less polished, but when at last I heard the first cut, I said "You've got to be kidding! I didn't know it could be this bad!" That first cut, "New Life," is a post-disco nightmare, complete with a sappy string arrangement, strikingly unimaginative drums, obvious overdubs and cheesy vocals at the end. And it's really rather unfortunate that "New Life" was chosen as the first cut, because much of the rest of the record is really quite good. So if you can make it past that first cut, you'll hear some great jazz, including some inklings of his later work. For example, "Jesus, El Conquistador" and "Spirit of Elijah" both reveal some Spanish and Latin ideas, while "Amazing Grace" and "Past Reflections" show some of his gospel leanings. The touching "Martin Luther King, Jr." begins with a sound clip of a speach by the great civil rights leader, which leads in to a thoughtful jazz ballad. "Joshua" sounds like it could belong on a jazz LP released a few years later by Keith Thomas, "Instrumental Appetite." "Joshua" also contains some killer bass work, which I could swear is Abraham Laboriel, though he's not credited on the LP. His Koinonia band-mates Harlan Rogers and Bill Maxwell do play on this record, and Harlan's talent on keyboards is particularly noticeable. Fletch, of course, demonstrates his mastery of flute, trumpet and flugelhorn throughout. Overall, a nice jazz album, if you can forgive a few awkward moments. CP