Jazz Guitarist/Vocalist Anthony Wilson Delivers Second Vocal Album in Roots/Folk Vein with Intimate ‘The Plan of Paris’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

When this writer first heard Grammy-nominated guitarist Anthony Wilson play with Charles Lloyd in a streaming performance, Wilson’s bluesy, soulful guitar sounds impressed. Drawn then to this solo effort, it seemed rather surprising to hear Wilson sing until realizing that he sang on 2016’s Frogtown, where he first began incorporating them into his previously instrumental, mostly jazz music. So, there’s continuity here as well as in the fact that Wilson again taps his long-running band, with Blue Note recording artist Gerald Clayton on piano and keyboards, along with bassist David Piltch and Jay Bellerose on drums and percussion. We’d expect nothing less than stellar sidemen as Wilson has played that role as guitarist in Diana Krall’s quartet since 2001, and whether it’s coincidental or not, their musical bond began when joining her for a series of shows at Paris’ Olympia Theater which turned into the following year’s Grammy-winning recording concert film, Live in Paris. The biracial Wilson is the son of jazz royalty, the progressive big band leader, Gerald Wilson, but his mom is the one more responsible for his eclectic tastes. Over the years, Wilson’s recorded with Paul McCartney, Barbra Streisand, Willie Nelson, Leon Russell, Charles Lloyd, Mose Allison, Bobby Hutcherson, Joe Henry, Gladys Knight, Randy Crawford, and Joe Sample, among many others. Recorded largely live in Los Angeles with co-producer Joe Harley and engineer Pete Min during pandemic quarantine, The Plan of Paris not surprisingly is a pensive, self-reflective work ideal for quiet, late-night listening.  Wilson has some stories to tell and mostly sets his superior guitar skills to service the song, rather than dazzling us with solos although he does deliver two lovely instrumental compositions in the latter half. Nonetheless, even in his economical statements, such as in “Already Won,” his fluidity is remarkable. He comes across as a quiet troubadour with superior guitar tone and touch relative to the singer-songwriter types but lyrically he often covers similar ground. The album unfolds as a series of short detailed, cinematic pieces set to a fluid hybrid of jazz, folk and blues. The opener “No Intro, No Recap” relates to the addiction to pandemic TV-watching hours on end. He offers a real-life murder ballad sourced from the headlines of an ‘80s newspaper in “A Postmaster’s Daughter” and the title track delves into an intriguing romantic mystery about a missing person along the Seine. Maybe it’s the music, maybe it’s in the DNA of musicians like Wilson who spend most of their time around Los Angeles, but these noir touches seem to naturally evoke Hitchcock films, or perhaps Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris was in his head. Wilson already tipped his hand to hours of TV watching, after all. Wilson’s vocals are not as nearly refined as his brilliant guitar playing but they are interesting – a little bit of Michael Franks, a touch of Randy Newman, and an upper range that borders on falsetto but is more a natural extension of his expression. Wilson also nods reverently to both musical and political heroes, specifically John Prine in “Dreams and Diamonds” and in a more celebratory fashion to the late Congressman John Lewis’ historic Memphis civil rights confrontation in the “Bridge.” “Noontide” and “Pilgrim,” the two instrumentals are gorgeous, masterclasses in finesse, with Clayton’s piano the perfect complement to Wilson’s guitar and Bellerose’s deft touches on the kit. The closing “The Pilgrim” is the best example of how Wilson blends jazz and blues so well in his approach. Long regarded as a triple threat as in guitarist/composer/arranger, maybe we should now apply the baseball term, five-tool player, as over his past two albums Wilson has proved vocalist and lyricist too. Wilson is the explorative type, offering something completely different with each album. He’s one to follow, no matter which role or project he undertakes.

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