Thursday, December 5, 2002
Anthony Wilson has spent much of the last year in perhaps the most high-profile guitar gig in jazz, accompanying singer/pianist Diana Krall during the globe-spanning tour that produced her recent hit album "Live in Paris." But Wilson is far too creative a player and composer to be satisfied with a sideman gig, no matter how much fun he''s having backing Krall''s sultry vocals.
He performs at the Jazz & Blues Company on Saturday with his organ trio, the smaller working band in an arsenal that also includes a celebrated nonet. Both groups have become superb vehicles for Wilson, who has emerged in the past decade as one of the most accomplished young writers in jazz. Since winning the BMI/Thelonious Monk Institute International Composers'' Competition in 1995, the guitarist has released three highly praised albums on MAMA Records that showcase the nine-piece ensemble and his evolving sensitivity to the band''s textural possibilities.
But when Wilson feels like stretching out, he hooks up with his trio, featuring Joe Bagg on the Hammond B3 organ and drummer Mark Ferber. A deeply soulful player who has listened closely to guitar titans such as Wes Montgomery, Grant Green and Kenny Burrell, Wilson works within the blues-drenched organ trio tradition, while attempting to exploit the combo''s orchestral possibilities.
"When you play in an organ trio you run the risk of just falling into that greasy soul groove," says Wilson, 35. "But if you''re open to different kinds of material and group interplay, you can add to the expression."
The trio released a beautiful album last year on Groove Note, Our Gang, which includes a jaunty version of Frank Loesser''s "Luck Be A Lady," an extended, simmering workout on Lennon and McCartney''s "I Want You (She''s So Heavy)," and concludes with Ellington''s timeless "Prelude to a Kiss."
Where most organ combos render their music in bright neon hues, Wilson''s trio creates shimmering watercolor washes. Rather than settling into predictable blues grooves, Wilson has developed a ravishing, conversational approach that owes more to Keith Jarrett''s "standards" trio than Jimmy Smith''s blues-drenched combo.
"When I started out I was more in the mode of doing a classic organ trio, a little more gritty, a little more swinging stuff," says the guitarist, who is the son of legendary bandleader, composer and arranger Gerald Wilson. "But as we''ve played together, the nature of the music has changed. We take interesting tunes from rock groups. We love Brazilian music and slow ballads, different kinds of things that people don''t expect to hear from an organ trio."
In a perfect illustration of the aesthetic principal that less is more, the trio''s tremendous aural range flows out of Wilson''s unadorned sound. Playing a classic 1958 Gibson Byrdland, Wilson plugs directly into his custom-built, vintage Fender-style amp, eschewing effects, pedals and other electronic toys.
"I like a pretty direct sound," Wilson says. "I think it blends really well in a setting like this, with the organ played through a Leslie, another tube amp. It''s a raw, stripped-down guitar sound. If it''s a good amp, it really sings in its own way, so you don''t have to do much more."
The Anthony Wilson Trio plays at the Jazz and Blues Company Saturday night. 624-6432.