Anthony Wilson Takes Vocal Excursion in New York


Anthony Wilson (left) and Joshua Crumbly perform material from Wilson’s new album, Frogtown, at The Django in Manhattan’s Roxy Hotel.

(Photo: David Fields)

Early on during his May 5 show at The Django, a new room in Manhattan’s Roxy Hotel inspired by Parisian boites of the Jazz Age, guitarist-vocalist Anthony Wilson knew he was running into some trouble with the chatty crowd.

Half the house—those seated directly in front of the stage—was silent, riveted by Wilson’s performance with his quartet in support of his new self-produced album, Frogtown. But a talkative contingent back by the bar—most likely hotel patrons who were more interested in networking than paying attention to the music—made it rough going, particularly during Wilson’s gentler numbers.

Patrons shushing with righteous indignation didn’t seem to help matters. Finally, Wilson summoned up his Southern California cool and calmly lectured the disrupters: “I know there is a way to talk softly. I just know it,” he pleaded, before launching into the intimate, confessional James Taylor-esque vocal tune “Arcadia.” His Zen trick worked, for about 30 seconds. And then the self-absorbed yakkers were back at it again.

Luckily for Wilson, fewer than half of the songs in his set relied on that gentle dynamic. The instrumental “Silver And Flint” (named for two characters from Robert Lewis Stevenson’s Treasure Island—Long John Silver and his parrot Captain Flint) rocked hard and had Wilson ripping it up on his Les Paul guitar with a touch of distortion. His revved-up “Mescal” (his answer to The Champs’ instrumental hit “Tequila”) closed out his eclectic set in raucous fashion.

In between, Wilson and his band, the Curators—pianist/accordionist Vitor Gonçalves, bassist Joshua Crumbly and drummer Bill Dobrow, along with guests Levon Henry on tenor saxophone and Petra Haden on violin—cut a wide stylistic swath in this hour-long set.

The musicians jammed euphorically on the kinetic 6/8 romp “Shabby Bird,” which had Wilson and Haden (who attended high school together) exchanging spirited call-and-response licks, and on “Your Footprints,” which featured Henry (son of producer Joe Henry) exploring freely on tenor.

The quirky “Frogtown” sounded like an alternate theme for the HBO show Curb Your Enthusiasm, or possibly an outtake from Bill Frisell’s score for the animated film Gary Larson’s Tales From The Far Side. And the band’s charming musette-style instrumental “Occhi Di Bambola” seemed appropriate for the room.

Frogtown marks Wilson’s debut as singer. He previously established himself as a reliably swinging guitarist for Diana Krall and an accomplished composer-arranger for a series of potent nonet recordings as a leader, including Goat Hill Junket (MAMA) and Power Of Nine (Groove Note). And he wowed guitar aficionados in 2013 with his gorgeous chamber-like four-guitar suite, Seasons (Goat Hill Recordings).

As a vocalist-lyricist, Wilson acquitted himself with soulful conviction and insightful wordplay on evocative numbers like “She Won’t Look Back,” the confessional “Our Affair” and the as-yet unrecorded “While We Slept.”

A bona fide double threat, Wilson touches a lot of bases and strikes emotional chords on his latest album. He and his copasetic crew deserve better than what they got from those rude patrons at The Django on this Thursday evening in Tribeca.

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July 2019
Anat Cohen
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