Anthony Wilson: Adult Themes

Young Anthony Wilson has been growing up in public for the last few years, first as a guitarist in his father Gerald Wilson’s orchestra and then as a guitarist-leader-arranger-composer in his own right. With Adult Themes, his finest and most varied album yet, adulthood, i.e. maturity, seems at hand. He is often cited as part of the young breed of arranger-composers keeping alive the flame of big band culture (in his case, a more mobile, flexible medium size ensemble-a little big band). And he does bring to the form a kind of passion and also an inveterate reverence for tradition, which is not to say that he has abandoned precious youthful folly (God forbid that any of us lose that) and creative flexibility. Here, he unveils a languid, tasty chart for Donald Fagen’s “Maxine”-replete with wistful, Wes-ish octaves-and a great version of the Beatles ballad “Because,” it’s smart arpeggios played on electric sitar, under horn writing. “Danny Boy” emerges as a slow, oozing blues, and Wilson extends a suave, post-third streaming, chamber-like hand on his aptly-titled “Invention in Blue.” Playing-wise, too, Wilson is gaining greater confidence, and he surrounds himself with some of the finest players the West Coast has to offer, including tenor saxist Pete “Deacon Blues” Christlieb, and the fine trumpeter Carl Saunders.

The centerpiece on the recording, though, is the title suite, written on commission from IAJE and premiered at the Disneyland Hotel last January at the IAJE Convention. “Adult Themes,” is a witty five-part suite armed with gutsy grooves and thoughtful introspection, and striking effects, such as the tolling low piano note which abruptly truncates some passages, like a mortal reminder notice at a party. Wilson keeps thinking and growing, and the process is well worth tracking.