Analog Planet -
Wilson shines both as an arranger, comfortably in the grip of Gil Evans, and as a precise master of the hollow-bodied electric guitar. The set opens strongly with a reworking of “Make It Good,” an old Duke Pearson tune that harkens back to a pleasing time before jazz got over intellectualized, when it was sufficient for it to just swing and make you feel good. The arrangement is appropriately anchored by Donald Vega’s piano, though there’s room for others to solo. Wilson stays back, preferring to take the spotlight on the introspective second tune “I and Thou,” from “Tokyo Wednesday,” a suite of compositions written by Wilson during a period of extensive international travel. Sumptuously arranged for brass and reeds, the tune evokes the glow of a relaxing, satisfying late night interlude after a strenuous day. At least that’s what it did for this listener.
The Krall guest spot is equally evocative and inviting. “Looking Back” is a forthright recollection of a childhood home that Krall brings to life effectively, and appropriately, without vocal embellishments. Wilson’s arrangement drives the point home without sinking into cornpone.
Wilson’s notes explain both the inspiration (a New Year’s holiday in Brazil) and the musical construction of Quadras. A mandolin joins the Nonet on two of Quadras, adding a nimble texture to the setting. The side ends with the slinky “Amalgamation,” a segment of a suite commissioned by the Cerritos Center For The Performing Arts as part of a double bill in which Joe Lovano’s Nonet played selections from Miles Davis’s Birth of the Cool. The title, Wilson says in the notes, concerns the joining of two musician’s unions in L.A., an event that took place back when Davis issued the original album.
Engineer Michael C. Ross’s pickup of drummer Mark Ferber’s snare drum on “Melatonin Dream” will blow your cookies! As for the rest of the sound of this album, it is easily the best sounding album of Ross’s Groove Note recordings, possessing a transparency, three dimensionality and harmonic fullness his previous efforts, excellent as they were, cannot match. He’s backed off the drums a bit, especially his tendency to pan them across the stage, and this gives the album a greater sense of “live” and less of a “studio” sound.
The horns, reeds, and keyboards sound alarmingly real, with the recording delivering both image and ensemble three dimensionality in spades. Especially impressive though in terms of recording quality are the textures and timbres of Wilson’s guitar playing: they are crystalline clear yet warm and full bodied, so you get the pluck delivered cleanly with a bell-toned follow through and the harmonic structure intact.
A super album on all counts: atmospheric, evocative, richly drawn and emotionally complete. You couldn’t ask for more. Producer Joe Harley has put it all together to deliver his best production to date. At least that I know of.
If jazz isn’t your thing but you’d like a way in, I can’t think of a better introduction musically and especially sonically. Highest recommendation!
Music: 10 out of 10
Sound: 11 out of 10
It’s rare for a guitarist to act selflessly and even rarer for him or her to compose with ambition. Anthony Wilson, whose leader work may have finally outshined his gig as a Diana Krall sideman, makes the ensemble and the music his first priority on Power of Nine. As overstated as it might sound, Power of Nine communicates an elegant authority similar to that of Oliver Nelson’s seminal Impulse! recordings, particularly Blues and the Abstract Truth. Wilson’s horn arrangements, like Nelson’s, breathe and swell in spacious, majestic statements and often demand more attention than the solos. The two albums also share the sparkling clarity in production that audiophiles crave.
Highlights include the opening cover of Duke Pearson’s “Make It Good,” where Wilson coaxes swing-era grandeur from a mid-size ensemble, and the title track where Wilson exercises Kessel-style bop mastery and the rest of the group burns with equal deftness atop frantic swing. The album’s centerpiece is four Brazil-inspired “Quadras,” during which the ensemble tackles an array of compositional shades and textures: from straightahead to world-influenced, meditative to feverish. “Quadra 3 (Coisinha)” sambas delicately before Wilson and mandolinist Eva Scow engage in a thrilling game of cat-and-mouse. “Quadra 4 (Javali Witness)” explodes in a full-ensemble passage that relinquishes focus briefly to the rhythm section and ends with a powerhouse horn-section-only melody.