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This Experimental LA Jazz Album Has Its Own Photography Book

Songs and Photographs is the new album and book of photographs by Anthony Wilson, released Dec. 7. In this photo, a man holds a Godzilla action figure in the palm of his hand. (Courtesy Anthony Wilson)
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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.

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For years, Wilson's creative journeys have avoided strict labels. Songs and Photographs continues that as an assemblage of epiphanies, observations, and revelations -- rolling through time and space.

Accompanying it all is a sequence of quietly evocative photographs, shot on film, taken from his journeys across the country and around the globe.

(Courtesy of Anthony Wilson)

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, he also provides the vocals.

"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.

(Courtesy of Anthony Wilson)

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.

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(Courtesy of Anthony Wilson)

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 reflection.

(Courtesy of Anthony Wilson)

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 doesn't care about labels; it's what music would be if record companies and consumers weren't trying to apply labels, weren't expecting them. The result is a record that defies genre -- proudly and boldly full of unexpected turns and vivid introspective vistas.

Songs and Photographs settles Wilson in a fertile creative landscape where, as he sings in "While We Slept":

There's no fear
and in this place where I have landed
can I take a look around and stay?

(Courtesy of Anthony Wilson)

Listen to this essay on KPCC's The Frame podcast.

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