This Experimental LA Jazz Album Has Its Own Photography Book
Los Angeles-based musician Anthony Wilson's latest release, Songs and Photographs, reminds us what we've lost in our departure from the analog life — both in music and in snapshots, rich repositories of emotion and memory.
The guitarist, arranger, and composer is the son of the late great jazz trumpeter, composer, and bandleader Gerald Wilson. While jazz is his homebase, Anthony often deftly finds his way into different settings, sitting in with a mix of artists — among them Paul McCartney, Aaron Neville, Kenny Burrell, and Willie Nelson. He's also been a member of Diana Krall's ensemble since 2001.
His latest release combines his own music and photography. This new work is an "album" in a broad sense: an unfolding collection of images, both audio and visual. It's meant to be taken as a whole, intended for reflection.
For years, Wilson's creative journeys have avoided strict labels. Songs and Photographs
Accompanying it all is a sequence of quietly evocative photographs, shot on film, taken from his journeys across the country and around the globe.
The opening piece, "The Palmist's Hand," is an ebullient, shimmering mystical mood. If Songs and Photographs were a film, this would be the establishing shot. You fall into its locomotion, its opening sonic vistas. And for this piece, not only has Wilson set down lyrics
"While We Slept" feels like a "be here now" journal entry — just Wilson's plaintive voice, first backed only by his guitar. Then the spare arrangement continues to build, then fill in with colors, until a lush instrumental section materializes — like an image shimmering up in a darkroom's developing tray.
Many of Songs and Photographs' compositions create environments, taking you places that you feel you can navigate. We're rolling through time and space, as if by train — locations flash by, each one overtaken by the next.
The compositions aren't sentiments, they're situations. We can experience them with all of our senses.
"Song From a Dream," which may be the most straight-ahead "jazz" cut on the album (featuring a luminous Gerald Clayton on piano), swings hard.
Wilson is a tumbleweed — over time, he's collected bits and pieces of what's he's traveled through, both as a player and an observer/listener: We hear New Orleans' unshakable second-line beat, Laurel Canyon's introspections, dark-to-dawn mysterious opening vistas.
It's all evidence of the journey. The photo sequencing creates a complementary arc; a walkabout. The elegant accompanying book is an album of small gestures, incidental moments and visual side chatter.
Wilson's eloquent photographs, 22 in all, are shot with a 1959 Canon rangefinder. They record the small, often unnoticed details that, taken together, create an atmosphere. In a fraction of a second, the shutter opens and closes. It's his way of, as he sings in the title cut, taming chaos and slowing time:
I sit watching
As the blue hourglass drains
With my camera
I go out walking
When it's shining, when it rains
Much like the ritual of walking, looking, and composing (both songs and visual captures), Wilson's Songs and Photographs entices the listener to slow down, to examine details and layers: a sky drained of color, an empty nest; the found poems within graffiti or ghost signs, reflections within
In lyrics, he frames the tiniest of moments — colored pencils in a gold leaf case, the growth of a hedge, the act of recovering last night's dream — to create an album of moments and gestures. Wilson's act of observation shows us that everything we perceive, with all of its richness and its imperfections, is a continuous flow of experience. It becomes the album we call our memories. We, too, are analog.
Dust in the finder, haze in the Lens
Perspectives that warp
Shadows that bend
As an artist, Wilson pushes beyond expectations — both the listeners' and his own. Songs and Photographs
Songs and Photographs
Listen to this essay on KPCC's The Frame podcast.