Among the nominees for a Grammy Award in the Best Large Jazz Ensemble category, Anthony Wilson's nonet recording is grouped with some rather formidable competitors: Joe Henderson's Big Band, Bill Holman's Big Band, J.J. Johnson's Brass Orchestra, and Phil Woods' Festival Orchestra. Fortunately, careers don't always hinge on the granting of arts & entertainment awards such as the Grammys. Approaching thirty, surrounded by a group of LA's finest mainstream jazz veterans, and sharing both the genetic and environmental makeup of his father (bandleader Gerald Wilson) the young guitarist demonstrates unusual talent. As guitarist, he's performed with his father's orchestra throughout the decade. As composer, Anthony Wilson has already been honored (in 1995) as winner of the BMI / Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz competition for his original "Karaoke," an integral, ten-minute part of this recording.
This eponymous album features bop-derived solo work from trumpeter Carl Saunders, saxophonists Pete Christlieb, Louis Taylor, Jack Nimitz, guest Bennie Wallace, pianist Brad Mehldau, and Wilson. With an emphasis on the melody, the guitarist maintains a uniform approach, paying ample attention to a smooth sound that includes chorded lines and cool phrasing. "Parisian Knights," a Lucky Thompson composition, features young pianist Mehldau in an exciting solo presentation, followed by Saunders' bright trumpet and Christlieb's tenor saxophone. Wilson's "Pachinko" features baritone saxophonist Jack Nimitz in a solo role. Duke Ellington's "Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me" features a lush trombone solo from Ira Nepus. In the Lester Young tradition, Wilson's "Southern Gentleman" features guest tenor saxophonist Bennie Wallace, who offers both the cool and the hot.
Anthony Wilson's compositions emphasize the melody, but never at the expense of the harmony or rhythm. "Leila" is a big band ballad with the nonet's members grouped as sections to offer lush harmony and counterpoint. "Fargas Shuffle" combines the baritone saxophone "anchor" with the other saxophones as a section. The perky upbeat rhythm of "Pachinko" and "The New Fawn-Do!" provides contrast to round out the session and offer proof that the son follows in the footsteps of his father.
Since this is a Grammy-nominated item, it shouldn't be difficult to obtain; if it is, you can write the label at: MAMA Records, 555 Easy Street, Simi Valley, California 93065. Recommended.