Jazz review: Anthony Wilson Trio with Jim Keltner at the Blue Whale

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If you happened to be walking by Pro Drum Shop on Vine Wednesday night, or maybe glanced in the percussion room at Guitar Center, chances are the skins had gone quiet throughout the city as the second night of guitarist Anthony Wilson’s month-long residency at the Blue Whale kicked off with a special guest in drum titan Jim Keltner. Attention among the faithful -- even those who never sat down at the instrument -- must be paid.

Even if you don’t think you’re familiar with Keltner, you are. A first-call session drummer in a storied career, Keltner has recorded with George Harrison, Wings, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, the Ramones -- frankly, it’s probably easier to list which music legend he hasn’t recorded with at this point.


And while Keltner’s track record leans toward rock, Wilson wasn’t stepping outside his home genre with his choice. Keltner also contributed shape-shifting percussion to some of Bill Frisell’s spacey folk-jazz recordings, as well as the jazzy twists of Steely Dan’s ‘Aja.’ Plus, if there were any doubt in his abilities to slip into any genre, one drummer in the crowd answered the question succinctly: ‘It’s Jim Keltner, man.’

But it was also Anthony Wilson, who’s enough of a master craftsman in his own right that there were probably no shortage of guitar lovers in the Blue Whale’s packed, standing-room-only crowd as well. Wilson’s ‘Campo Belo’ was an arresting take on the music of Brazil, and the live guitar recording ‘Seasons’ is maybe rivaled only by 1981’s ‘Friday Night in San Francisco’ by Paco DeLucia, Al DiMeola and John McLaughlin for six-string fireworks. And this doesn’t even count his collaborations, which includes work with Diana Krall, Willie Nelson and, by the way, his father in bandleader Gerald Wilson.

Complete with a wine list curated by Wilson (who is also a passionate oenophile -- just follow him on Twitter), Wilson and company delivered an immersive, one-of-a-kind night. Teamed with nimble organist Larry Goldings, the trio offered a mix of originals and diverse covers that included an inside-out take on Bob Dylan’s ‘It’s All Over Now Baby Blue’ highlighted by a lead turn from Wilson so beautiful that it nodded toward its source almost reluctantly. A later piece by Caetano Veloso was marked by a raw, acoustic-sounding intro from Wilson and a dark, trance-like groove from Keltner and Goldings. The group also ventured into more unsettled waters such as on an early piece that featured an exploration by Goldings so atmospheric it bordered on hallucinatory as Keltner tapped out a whole off-center world with his cymbals.

Other pieces touched on a loping sort of blues, while others swerved through a more Latin-oriented shuffle or abstract funk, marked at one point by a groove from Goldings’ roiling organ that wouldn’t have seemed out of place at a Medeski Martin and Wood show.

A restless tune from the second set offered maybe the night’s most arresting moment with Goldings working an effects module until his keyboard resembled a theremin as Wilson twisted through a solo that recalled the more aridly deconstructed work of Ry Cooder (whom Keltner has also backed). Then the trio shifted again, knowing there was still plenty to explore.


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-- Chris Barton