Best Jazz Saxophonist
A young lion with an old-school sensibility, Howard Wiley has a rep in local music circles as the hardest bopster around. The Berkeley-born saxophonist wouldn't have seemed out of place in the Bay Area's thriving jazz and blues scene in the '40s and '50s, and though jazz has become somewhat of an acquired taste for pop-oriented music fans weaned on MTV, Wiley still plays it the old-fashioned way: straight up, no chaser. Make no mistake, Wiley is one heavy cat. According to his web site, his most recent album, The Angola Project, drew inspiration from call-and-response spirituals "originating from recordings of gospel music and slave chants in the Angola Prison of the 1950s." Ya dig? Our personal favorite Wiley track — and one that sums up his style — is "Big Daddtay's Boogie," from his debut solo album 21st Century Negro. Ignoring modernity altogether, Wiley solos for more than nine minutes over a slow-as-molasses boogie-woogie beat, attacking the rhythm with a particularly gritty and forceful tone that's intensely primal yet somehow soothing. In doing so, he emphasizes the essential link between jazz and blues, reminds listeners that jazz doesn't have to be overly complicated, and absolutely murders the seemingly never-ending groove. Songs like these explain why Wiley gives hardcore jazz junkies the same kind of goosebumps they used to get from John Coltrane or Sonny Rollins, both of whom have gone to the great gig in the sky. If Wiley continues along at his current pace, a place at that table will be reserved for him — hopefully not for quite some time, though.