The Tony Wilson Sextet: The People Look Like Flowers At Last
Drip Audio

The People Look Like Flowers At Last is a special collection on multiple counts: first of all, it's only the second album release from guitarist Tony Wilson's sextet—a surprise considering the band formed in 1990 and boasts a personnel that's been stable since 1995; secondly, instead of an album of originals, Wilson devotes more than half of the set to arrangements of several sections from Benjamin Britten's Lachrymae, which the English composer originally composed for viola and piano.

The audacity doesn't stop there. In keeping with the mournful subject matter, the opening piece, “Lachrymae - Prelude,” presents a brief dirge for cello and harmonica, but many of the other eight treatments of the Britten work are upbeat and often inventive springboards for the group's free-spirited interplay. “Lachrymae - Movement #1,” for instance, captures the band in full flight, with unison trumpet and guitar lines interweaving with cello and sax before Wilson tears it up with an exuberantly noisy solo. Some of the Britten interpretations hew closely to the script, while others depart from it in free improv episodes—compare the sober group reading of “Lachrymae - Movement #7” to the serpentine soprano sax-led abandon of “Lachrymae - Movement #7 Variation,” for example. The Britten section ends with a beautiful and gentle coda (“Lachrymae - Movement #11”) before four Wilson originals take over, including “Arpeggio,” a searing set-piece for tenor sax and drums (the title a reference to the tune's arpeggio-based theme), and “Let The Monkeys Dance,” a fiery guitar-and-drums duet. Graced by euphonious individual and ensemble playing, the ballad-styled title cut's delicate by comparison, while the band (and tenor saxist Dave Say in particular) digs eagerly into the soulful vamp “Variation On A Theme” (a riff on the Bill Monroe composition “Working on a Building”) at album's end. Here and elsewhere, Wilson generously gives the other musicians—band leaders in their own right—ample moments to shine, with cellist Peggy Lee, trumpeter Kevin Elaschuk, woodwinds player Say, double bassist Paul Blaney, and drummer Dylan van der Schyff making their presences strongly felt at various times; if anything, Wilson—democratic leader that he is—opts to be one player of six rather than the dominating voice.

January 2010