Album Reviews

Anson Wright
Only Love

Artist:     Anson Wright

Album:     Only Love

Label:     Saphu Records

by Peter Lindblad

Anson Wright has a way with words, but he’s just as fluent in the unspoken language of jazz. With three books to his credit, including the seminal and profound Jericho, Wright is an acclaimed novelist, as well as a poet, having also worked as a taxi driver, guitar teacher and cabinet builder. He’s even dabbled in running a trucking company.

Only Love, the latest CD from the talented guitarist and composer, elegantly weaves its own sublime narrative, with a set of modern jazz originals (seven composed by Wright, with two created by pianist Weber Iago, also known as Jasnam Daya Singh) that flow effortlessly, change course on a whim and experience gentle mood swings without any hint of mania or need for medication. The pure, relaxed joy and light swing of the inviting opener “Rahway Blues” gives way to the sneaking dance—think “West Side Story” and its finger-snapping gangs—and circling rhythms of “Maddie in New York” and the intricate weaving of “Solstice,” before “Chelsea” slowly sweeps the floor in a lonesome, late-night reverie.

More complex and restless, “Warrior One” goes off in various directions, yet somehow, it manages to hold together, while Singh’s “All Shall Rise to Thee” feels like a quiet and sincere prayer, gently wringing mournful emotions out of every note. To the novice, Only Love offers accessibility and understated refinement, eschewing the overly complicated madness of jazz that often turns away the casually curious at the door. For the aficionado, there are tricky improvisational digressions to marvel at and mazes of arrangements to explore repeatedly. It lives in urban settings, but prefers more intimate, smaller clubs to noisy, crowded streets and favors easy, welcoming chemistry over half-crazed, blaring discord.

At will, without ever seeming to be in any kind of hurry, the technically precise Wright peels off warm, lacquered blips aglow with rich, mellow tonality. His fluid jazz guitar exercises send easily coded messages of commiseration and good will through a shape-shifting tangle of Singh’s zig-zagging piano rolls and sprinkling showers, Brian Casey’s rubbery bass grooves and drummer Todd Scott Bishop’s delightfully enigmatic beat patterns and delicate cymbal work. Visit Bishop’s intro to “Maddie in New York” to witness the soft, mushrooming explosion he ignites.

Writ large across Only Love, Wright’s guitar work is undeniably cool and stylish, clearly a product of the Jim Hall school. Nevertheless, there is a selfless quality to this quartet that’s impossible to ignore. All of the players, including Wright, are willing to take a backseat now and then. Everybody is willing to do the dirty work required to keep the train running on time and let others grab the spotlight to show off their chops. Only Love is not pretentious. It doesn’t walk around with its nose in the air, despite its graceful confidence and sophistication. It is, indeed, jazz for the common man.