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Anthony Wilson Nonet : Power of Nine

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. It’s these kind of composer-arranger smarts that make Diana Krall a musical afterthought on Jimmy Rowle’s “Looking Back,” where the singer’s overworked and theatrical sense of “cool” is grating. An obligatory sticker announces Krall’s guest spot on the cover of Power of Nine. Might I suggest Wilson gets the same star treatment the next time he donates his talents to one of Ms. Costello’s projects.

Originally Published