This review appeared in the Critics Poll issue of DownBeat. I was one of those critics polled.
Every Wednesday last April, guitarist Anthony Wilson presented four completely different sides to his musical persona at Los Angeles’ Blue Whale. Each week Wilson brought on a distinct band and instrumentation that was an impressive display of skill and versatility. On top of that he curated the wines.
Wilson opened the residency with a bit of tradition offering straight-ahead swing with bassist John Clayton, drummer Jeff Hamilton and confident young pianist and vocalist Champian Fulton but flipped everything around the following week.
For Wilson’s second night, rock drumming legend Jim Keltner made a rare club appearance alongside organist Larry Goldings as the trio paid homage to the groove. Wilson, dressed casually in a sweatshirt, and Keltner, in sunglasses and denim, seemed like they could have been brothers despite their nearly thirty year age gap.
The band opened with a bouncy original that had the guitar and Goldings’ swirling organ in close harmony. Throughout the evening Keltner held it down but stayed out of the way, finding subtle grooves on his battered kit. A simmering cover of Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now (Baby Blue)” had Keltner propelling the band with a set of brushes as Wilson dove into the tune with an impassioned solo. The band closed out the set with a bluesy simmer that had Keltner gripping a pair of maracas alongside his drumsticks.
After the performance, many of the drum fanatics in the audience (which was more than half the crowd) gathered around Keltner’s bright drum kit. “It’s ‘sour apple green’,” he said. “Which is fine as long as it isn’t ‘chartreuse’.”
For the third week, Wilson presented his recently recorded guitar suite with a quartet featuring confident slingers Larry Koonse, John Storie and Jeffrey Stein but he flooded the stage for his closing night with a youthful nonet.
Wilson managed to squeeze a full rhythm section and five horns into the Blue Whale’s intimate space but there was little room elsewhere because the sold-out crowd had filled every other corner in front of and behind the band.
Wilson opened his set by discussing the week’s wines at length before launching into a pensive solo that was so quiet the music from the mall outside was competing. He raised the volume for the second song, covering Joe Zawinul’s “Walk Tall.” The funky riff-fest featured one of several great solos from trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos before Wilson closed the tune with a frenetic roar.
Wilson is a confident arranger of the nine voices at his disposal. Obviously his father Gerald Wilson taught him well. Over the course of an hour and a half set Wilson had the horns playing everything from a gentle flutter behind pianist Josh Nelson’s delicate phrasing to a tight funky vamp over one of Mark Ferber’s crowd-pleasing drum solos. They closed the residency the same way it started: swinging. Propelled by Ferber’s splashing cymbals, baritone saxophonist Adam Schroeder bellowed on Duke Pearon’s appropriately titled “Make It Good” to ecstatic applause from the audience.