Anthony Wilson Quartet
Better than… the guy from 24 Hour Party People playing guitar all night.
Last night, before a full house, guitarist-composer-arranger Anthony Wilson began his four-week residency at the Blue Whale. He was aided by local legends, drummer Jeff Hamilton and bassist John Clayton, with Oklahmoa-by-way-of-New-York pianist-vocalist Champian Fulton rounding out the group with her effortless charm and impeccable chops. Despite this being Fulton's first time in the Southland, she whole-heartedly embraced the spotlight, drawing adoration from the rapt crowd.
The quartet opened with a Wilson original, an homage to his new home-away-from-home, “Blues Whale.” The original theme launched into a straight-ahead drive with each member taking a tasteful spin of their own. Fulton's shimmering block chords drew enthusiastic applause from the audience while Clayton's driving solo drew them even closer.
A blistering “Lover (Come Back to Me)” was prefaced by Fulton hedging the crowd's expectations, claiming that the band had not rehearsed the number. Nonetheless Wilson ripped through the familiar changes while Fulton delivered every rapid-fire note with a smile.
“He's Funny That Way” found the quartet slowing the pace with Wilson providing graceful fills around Fulton's delicate phrasing, both on piano and vocals. Their sympathetic interaction offered one of many highlights during the set.
“Tea for Two” found Fulton working intimately with Clayton as she highlighted her more seductive side. The two strode through the melody before Clayton offered up a coy solo of his own, holding the audience captive as he drew out a sly “shave and a haircut.”
The Clifford Brown classic “Daahoud” used a rip-roaring approach that was as indebted to Phineas Newborn as its trumpet-playing composer. Wilson provided a seat-of-the-pants solo that led to a thundering turn from Hamilton as Clayton thumped behind him.
Perennial favorite “Stardust” slowed the tempo with Fulton taking a vocal turn channeling at times a toothy Ella while also honoring Billie Holiday's willowy approach. Wilson, aside from a delicate solo, offered sporadic touches of tastefulness behind Fulton as she followed her vocals with a sweetly block-y solo.
The set closed with a deconstruction of the Jerome Kern classic “All The Things You Are.” Hamilton's clacking Latin vibe set the tone as Wilson wailed over the pulsating vamp. His extended solo worked through the quick-fire changes while Fulton offered a fleet-fingered solo of her own. Clayton wrapped things up with a furiously bowed solo that sounded as though he might be sawing a tree in half.
It is a pleasure to see an artist at the top of his game dig deep into the pocket for an evening of unrepentant swing. Wilson has set himself up to display the full-breadth of his abilities this month and establishing his mastery of the so-called “splang-a-lang” has allowed him ample room to dig in to other, less accessible outposts.
It was Hamilton and Clayton's first appearance at the Blue Whale but hopefully far from their last. The combined powers of one of the swingingest pairs of musicians in Los Angeles, backing two entertainers like Wilson and Fulton, was something that everyone should be so lucky to witness. The next three weeks will no doubt offer some impeccable performances.
Personal Bias: I took two quarters of Anthony's father's jazz history class. It was the most memorable course I ever took.
The Crowd: From first-timer club-goers to the “I remember when…” crowd and a lot of flannel.
Random Notebook Dump: Wilson provided hand-selected wines to pair with his evening's performance. He seemed offended that the Gamay wasn't as popular as the Cabernet Franc blend.