“A very good overview of his early career” by Los Angeles Jazz Scene

“Fremeaux & Associates is one of the top jazz labels from France. While Fremeaux is a wide-ranging company that also releases other kinds of music, it has several jazz series that are quite notable including previously unreleased live sessions of American greats in Europe, career retrospectives, and a complete Django Reinhardt series. Barney Wilen’s 1954-1961 is a three-CD set that covers the first period of the excellent French saxophonist’s career. Wilen (1937-96) played soprano-sax early in his career (inspired originally by Sidney Bechet) but became best known as a strong hard bop-oriented tenor-saxophonist who at times in the 1950s could remind one of Sonny Rollins. He had many opportunities starting in 1954 to play with visiting American jazz greats, making his recording debut that year with drummer Roy Haynes’ group. In the Fremeaux compilation, one hears quite a few of the highpoints of Wilen’s first seven years on record. Along the way he holds his own with such notables as Haynes, pianists Henri Renaud, John Lewis, Duke Jordan, Toshiko Akiyoshi and George Gruntz, guitarist Jimmy Gourley, tenor-saxophonists Bobby Jaspar and Wayne Shorter, altoist Hubert Fol, trumpeters Kenny Dorham, Lee Morgan and Dizzy Gillespie, and flugelhornist Clark Terry, not to mention Miles Davis (both on two songs from the soundtrack of Elevator To The Gallows and in a live concert). In addition, Wilen fares well on a jam session version of “Indiana” next to fellow tenors Stan Getz, Coleman Hawkins, Don Byas and Guy Lafitte. Wilen, whose playing of soprano-sax by the late 1950s in a modern jazz setting has been overlooked (it parallels that of Lucky Thompson), continued to evolve through the years, becoming a bit obscure after 1962 but spending periods playing free jazz, rock  and African music before returning to straight ahead jazz in the 1980s. 1954-1961 gives one a very good overview of his early career and whets one appetite to acquire his complete sessions in the future.”