Album review: Jonathan Wilson, Fanfare (Bella Union)
Album of the Week: Friends unite for a cosmic hymn to the simple things
For his eagerly awaited follow-up to Gentle Spirit, West Coast auteur Jonathan Wilson draws heavily on the talents of many of the musicians who influenced his style – fellow Angelenos such as David Crosby, Graham Nash and Jackson Browne, sundry Heartbreakers, and British singer-songwriter Roy Harper, repaying a favour for Wilson's part-production of his recent Man & Myth album by co-writing two of the tracks.
It all lends a pronounced period flavour to proceedings, though Wilson's touchstones are the more rarefied likes of cult items such as Crosby's If I Could Only Remember My Name and Dennis Wilson's Pacific Ocean Blue. There's a relaxed, often miasmic tone exemplified by the title track, which fades in on treated bird noises before drums and keyboards develop a dramatic, epic arrangement capped with strings and free-jazz saxophone: it's like he's trying to pour all the music in the world through a fine-mesh sieve, an impression which recurs throughout the album. "Dear Friend" shifts from lilting waltz to a jazzy vibraphone finale with a wah-wah guitar break, while "Lovestrong" makes a subtly gymnastic volte-face from a piano ballad hymning "cosmic harmony" to an earthier second half of organ, piano and congas. The focus keeps shifting just when you least expect it, always in pleasingly unexpected fashion.
The way that Wilson integrates folk, funk and jazz brings to mind Tim Buckley's innovations, and also hippie combo Sopwith Camel: a cover of their whimsical "Fazon" offers a genial focus between the ethereal strains surrounding it – things such as the backing vocals fluttering like ghosts alongside the flute of "New Mexico", Crosby's vocal extemporisations on "Cecil Taylor", and the hypnotic lilt of vibes and strings in "All the Way Down". With Wilson's murmurous vocals hymning the same virtues of love, peace, desert meditation and soaring spirits that characterised its predecessor, Fanfare offers a classy rumination on modern values – albeit something of a conundrum, in being perhaps the most sophisticated celebration of simplicity ever recorded.
Download: Fanfare; Dear Friend; Fazon; New Mexico; Lovestrong; All the Way Down
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