Review: By Dan Bilawsky All About Jazz, July 2018
WCS 104 Look to the Sky
Eric Wyatt

Look To The Sky is a story of family, navigating the world of jazz, and extolling those who helped light the way. To call it a tribute record would be to frame it inaccurately, but it's most certainly built around the personalized song of praise.

Saxophonist Eric Wyatt, a brawny Brooklynite with a heart of gold, uses this date to honor his parents, touch on touchstones, and walk down memory lane with his bandmates. He doesn't feign nostalgic sentiments or lean on sappy ideals, but there are clear echoes of the past in his instruments and the stories they tell. Opening on pianist Benito Gonzalez's "E-Brother," the first of three numbers influenced by Wyatt's mother's passing, this band wastes no time establishing a take-no-prisoners approach to music-making. The two other pieces honoring her—the bounding cut-and-slash title track, asserting the new heavenly home for the family's late matriarch, and "A Psalm For Phennie," a cathartic outpouring with a spiritually-paved entrance—come at her life force in different yet complementary ways.

Right beside that aforementioned psalm sits the sonic spirit of Wyatt's father, the man responsible for ushering him into the world of jazz. A rough-and-tumble tune driven by bassist Eric Wheeler's relentless walking, enlivened by the back-and-forth between Wyatt and drummer Kyle Poole, and giving Gonzalez a blank slate to paint over, "Jolley Charlie" perfectly encapsulates this leader's broad knowledge of the horn while highlighting the deep affection he carries for his musical guiding light.

Four of the five remaining tunes on the playlist are classics that, while nodding to the masters, were actually pulled into the present by circumstance and use: A charged and racing take on Herbie Hancock's "One Finger Snap" recalls the first time Wyatt and trumpeter Keyon Harrold ever played together; a 4/4 take on "Afro Blue," complete with a dicey undercurrent, carries status as a crowd-pleaser in Wyatt's live sets; soprano staple "My Favorite Things" was a condition of employment for his band at a jazz festival in Kuala Lumpur; and "Tenderly," performed as a piano-and-sax duo, instantly replaces this artist's tough-minded image with that of a romantic. There are some minor quips to be made here—the vocals on "My Favorite Things" detract a bit from the performance, the production doesn't always seem to display true depth of field—but that's all they are. In the end, Look To The Sky's edgy soul-searching and songcraft win out.

Review: By Jonathan Woolfe Music Web International, June 2018
WCS 104 Look to the Sky
Eric Wyatt

Eric Wyatt’s musical inheritance encompasses the legacies of both Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. The former has acted as a kind of godfather to Wyatt, and the latter’s tonal and stylistic influence is notable on several of the tracks in this probing, technically accomplished album.

His band on this 2015 disc that was mixed in 2017 includes the outstanding pianist Benito Gonzalez (ex-Kenny Garrett), trumpeter Keyon Harrold, and a strong rhythm section that provides consistently athletic support. Written in memory of his mother, Wyatt’s E-Brother is no dirge; its Blue Note ethos hearkening back to Horace Silver, a kind of soulful Bop that features a fleet-fingered solo from the pianist and heady front-line badinage. Look to the Sky-Sister Carol is another Wyatt original – there are four such in the nine-track CD – and is an up-tempo swinger with active percussion work from the alert Shinnosuke Takahashi, strong piano comping and soloing. My Favorite Things is patterned à la Coltrane, with Wyatt sporting soprano and tenor throughout its course, and features the vocals of Wyatt and Andrea Miller – fluent and fluid hard bop. Jolley Charlie, another Wyatt song, explores the richer vibrato and fatter sound of his Rollins inheritance and the arrangement, with his tenor riding over bass and drums, is very much in the Rollins scheme of things, and effective too – good ensemble work, tight breaks, the increasing presence of the piano, and then a cheeky pay-off.

This last was written for his father and A Psalm for Phennie is another song for his mother, a soulful and never earnest salute with strong themes. The band does well by Herbie Hancock’s One Finger Snap, especially Gonzalez at the piano stool, though there’s a long and authoritative drum solo too and Harrold takes a tight solo into the bargain. Occasionally the playing can get a little claustrophobic and there’s a relentlessness to one or two tracks that won’t be to all tastes. Nevertheless, it’s good to encounter Afro Blue, the Mongo Santamaria song, where Gonzalez solos with variety and stylistic versatility, and to encounter the only real ballad performance at the very end of the set. Suffused with feeling and some blues phrases, Tenderly is idiosyncratically but thoughtfully programmed here. It ends an album of personal biography, instrumental finesse, and forthright intensity.

Review: By Doug Simpson Audiophile Audition, January 2018
WCS 104 Look to the Sky
Eric Wyatt

Family influence filters throughout saxophonist Eric Wyatt’s sixth album, and first for the Whaling City Sound label. The hour-long Look to the Sky is dedicated to Wyatt’s mother and father, who helped shape his attitude toward music: his father Charles passed away in 1989 and his mother Phennie more recently. Wyatt’s tone and style was also influenced by close family friend Sonny Rollins. In fact, Wyatt is considered Rollin’s godson. Wyatt titled his 1997 debut God Son (the title also nods to Wyatt’s religious faith). Spirituality is also an element of Look to the Sky: the title refers to looking to the heavens when Wyatt thinks of his parents. Spirituality is also a subject or theme in a few of the tunes.

Wyatt has a winning quintet which plays on the nine tracks. Longtime friend and musical partner Benito Gonzalez is on piano (he’s probably best known for his seven-year stint with Kenny Garrett); Keyon Harrold is on trumpet (he dubbed the trumpet for Don Cheadle in the 2015 Miles Davis biopic, Miles Ahead); Eric Wheeler is on bass (he’s performed with many notable jazz artists such as Benny Golson, Curtis Fuller, Delfeayo Marsalis, Russell Malone and more); and Shinnosuke Takahashi is on drums (he has worked with Eric Person, Don Friedman and Jon Davis and been in Wyatt’s band since 2011). Drummer Kyle Poole is on the trap set on three pieces (he’s shared stages with George Cables, Jeremy Pelt and more) and vocalist Andrea Miller guests on one cut. Wyatt composed three tunes; Gonzalez penned two; and the others are covers.

Wyatt and his band open with Gonzalez’ upbeat, post-bop number “E-Brother,” which Gonzalez wrote in admiration to Wyatt’s mother. Wyatt and Harrold contribute punchy sax and trumpet while Gonzalez, Wheeler and Takahashi provide a flowing and top-notch rhythmic support. After Wyatt and Harrold solo, Gonzalez showcases his proficiency on the keys. Gonzalez’ other composition comes near the CD’s close, the equally fast-paced “Starting Point,” which uses a convincing call-and-response aspect like gospel music. During the seven-minute “Starting Point” Takahashi supplies an insistent groove which keeps everyone on their toes. During a restrained section, Wheeler presents a wonderful bass solo which proves he’s going to become better known in the future.

Wyatt’s material is the highlight of the album. The 8:31 “Look to the Sky-Sister Carol” alludes to the loss of Wyatt’s mother. When Wyatt and his sister Carol speak of their parent’s whereabouts, they use the term, “We must look to the sky.” The track is multi-tiered. It begins in 6/8 jazz waltz time; Wyatt utilizes a brighter tone on alto sax as he sets up the main motif; Harrold takes the first solo in an easing gait; then Wyatt comes in with a sax tone which recalls a bit of Coltrane (one of Wyatt’s avowed influences) and his mentor Rollins. There are several memorable changes; and near the end Wyatt switches to soprano sax to give a warmer sheen to the tune’s final stretch. The jumping and swinging “Jolley Charlie” is Wyatt’s homage to his father. Wyatt states, “That’s my Dad’s tune. It just feels like my Dad.” Poole is in the drum seat. “Jolley Charlie” is satiated with joviality, jocularity and joyfulness: a perfect vehicle for illustrating the elder Wyatt’s personality. Gonzalez offers an extended solo in the midsection; and the arrangement has an interesting trio/quartet configuration. At the start, its drums, bass and sax. After Gonzalez’ improvisation, its piano, bass and drums. And then it’s a full quartet for the finale. That’s followed by the requiem-esque “A Psalm for Phennie.” Wyatt explains for days after his mother’s passing he couldn’t pick up his sax, but when he did, “This was the first song that came out of my horn.” The meditative intro and some of the passages have a distinct Coltrane-like movement, not unexpected given Coltrane’s stature in Wyatt’s early musical development.

Anyone who knows Coltrane won’t be surprised to hear Wyatt’s nearly eight-minute translation of “My Favorite Things,” the Rodgers/Hammerstein hit which became a Coltrane signature tune. Wyatt masterfully shifts through his different saxes, while Harrold sits out on this piece. “My Favorite Things” includes Wyatt’s debut vocals (he’s not much of a singer, but he gets nice support from Miller, who is a fine singer). The meat of this number, though, isn’t the vocals but the group’s accomplished and heated run through this familiar work, full of Coltrane’s spirit and jubilation. Two other noteworthy covers are Herbie Hancock’s “One Finger Snap” and Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro Blue.” The bop cut “One Finger Snap” (from Hancock’s 1964 LP, Empyrean Isles) was specifically composed with only a short melody, then a chord progression without a written melody which went right to improvisation. Wyatt follows suit: after the unison melodic intro, it’s solo, more solo, and more solo. Poole is on drums and his high-powered solo is one which should be heard by all drum fans. “Afro Blue” has become a jazz standard and Coltrane enthusiast’s will also recognize Coltrane did “Afro Blue” in 1963 with an extensive cross-rhythm technique. Wyatt perceptibly takes his cue from Coltrane for this eight-minute adaptation, which includes some phenomenal Wyatt sax improvising. Gonzalez sustains the tune’s harmonic sophistication and intricacy when he does some excellent soloing. Wyatt concludes with the wistful standard “Tenderly,” done by numerous jazz vocalists and instrumentalists. Here, Wyatt trims “Tenderly” down to a piano/sax duet with Gonzalez and the result is a beautiful way to end a brilliant album.

Review: By Midwest Book Review, December 2017
WCS 104 Look to the Sky
Eric Wyatt

Look to the Sky is sumptuous jazz-bop album by saxophonist Eric Wyatt. Complemented by pianist Gonzalez, drummers Shinnosuke Takahashi and Kyle Pool, bassist Eric Wheeler and trumpet player Keyon Harrold, Eric Wyatt showcases his mastery of the tenor sax, alto sax, and soprano sax, in addition to providing vocals with reverberant finesse. Look to the Sky embodies hope, wonder, and perseverance, and is highly recommended especially for jazz connoisseurs. The tracks are "E-Brother", "Look to the Sky - Sister Carol", "My Favorite Things", "Jolley Charlie", "A Psalm for Phennie", "One Finger Snap", "Afro Blue", "Starting Point", and "Tenderly". 61 min, 52 sec.

Review: By Robert D. Rusch, Cadence Magazine 2018
WCS 104 Look to the Sky
Eric Wyatt

ERIC WYATT [ts/as/ss] blows in with a touch of Trane on LOOK TO THE SKY [Whaling City Sound wcs 104]. Wyatt is a take charge guy and with fellow front liner Kenyon Harrold [tpt] they present a 11/10/15 recording that in ways suggests a Trane-Hubbard Blue Note date. There is good variety on the program in that the quintet [Benito Gonzalez-p, Eric Wheeler-b, Shinnosuke Takahashi or Kyle Poole-drms] is not always playing, even within a composition there are breaks for solo excursions or just a piano or a trio format. Pianist Gonzalez impresses on more than one occasion with his woven strung out lines. The 9 tracks [62:51] here which includes “My Favorite Things” and “Afro Blue” makes this an easy pick for listener’s whose jazz interests are limited to the Blue Note hard bop period.

Review: By Chris Tart, Downbeat Magazine January 2018
WCS 104 Look to the Sky
Eric Wyatt
Review: By Chris Spector, Midwest Record November 2017
WCS 104 Look to the Sky
Eric Wyatt

ERIC WYATT/Look to the Sky: A sax man that was kind of adopted by Sonny Rollins after his own father passed, this label debut is loaded with the kind of church basement honking you might expect from a cat given the freedom to chase that muse. Muscular, angular playing that takes no prisoners and gives no quarter, this hard hitting date will angry up your blood just enough to let you know your heart is still beating righteously. Tasty throughout.