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Anthony Wilson: Goat Hill Junket

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Last year, Los Angeles-based guitarist Anthony Wilson impressed with his debut on the MAMA label, not so much as a new addition to the overcrowded field of hot guitar soloists, but as one who obviously has passion and ideas worth hearing in the realm of a little big band-coaxing big sound from a nine-piece group). He’s at it again, this time using New York players (except for L.A. holdover, bassist Danton Boller), in a session lacking neither heat, warmth, nor musicality.

Wilson’s playing shows intelligence and curiosity more than blind burning, and his writing shows a keen ear for arranging, no doubt partly passed on from his big bandleader father, Gerald Wilson, and also a certain stylistic diversity. “W-2 Blues,” re: taxtime glumness, takes the blues form into odd places, without losing the essential grit. “Georgia Waltz” is a lovely-smart waltz and “Hell’s Belles” shimmies to a quasi-tango pulse. “The Cherry Tree” is pure honeyed suavity, harmonically and structurally, and the ante is upped along with the tempo on the scorching “It Has Happened to Me,” spun off of the idea of what could happen to a standard in a crafty re-arranger’s hands.

He ventures into cover territory, with a lavish and suitably lazy arrangement of “Here’s That Rainy Day,” taking the melody tenderly on guitar, and with a swinging pass at Tad Dameron’s “Flossie Lou.” To close the session, we get a sumptuous arrangement of “Stairway to the Stars,” accenting warm, glowing mid-range horn pads a la Ellington, and the range-leaping strides of soloist-protagonist Bennie Wallace on tenor sax. Wilson’s slender but rich discography as a leader indicates that his own jazz future is in good hands. By extension, so is the endangered tradition of ensemble horn writing.