Jonathan Wilson - Fanfare (Bella Union, 2013)
There is no middle ground when it comes to Jonathan Wilson’s album Fanfare, listeners will either love it, or despise it. I could have certainly used the word hate, but with the complexity of this opus, the only word that fits the bill is despise. After all, like the latter works of Brian Wilson, one doesn’t just toss this album onto the turntable and go about one’s business, this body of work demands your attention, it’s drifting, and precariously balanced somewhere between John Lennon’s Mind Games and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon.
But allow me to give you the overview ... riding on the heels and success of his 2011 album Gentle Spirit, Wilson somehow assembled a monumental cast of characters to bring this album to life, including Graham Nash and David Crosby, who deliver what they do best, those smooth gentle summer harmonies, then there’s The Jayhawks and their newest shadow, Jackson Brown, who together deliver something right out of a Topanga Canyon musical postcard, laced with everything one would expect. It’s this writer’s feeling that the album could and should have had a guiding hand, but then, like Brian Wilson, perhaps the lack of a guiding hand is what allows Fanfare to live in the space it does; that being dreamlike, visionary [in an updated looking back fashion], and magical, in that it manages to exist at all. Of the thirteen tracks, seven of those are over the six minute mark, and could be shortened with less indulgent guitar solos, and an unrestrained sax that squawks rather than creating an atmosphere, as did the late Clarence Clemons. Fanfare does require patience and a dedicated persistence before it fully unfolds, though by that time, many people will have shelved the album, perhaps allowing their hand to pause while passing over it, yet unwilling to sit down and make the dedication to listening.
If I was being honest, I’d have to say that I’ve avoided this album for many reasons, not the least being that Fanfare has no plot, or at least the conception has been altered so much, and turned into a jam of West Coast free and easy sprits, with band members dropping in and out of the studio, showing their faces only to showcase their talents, yet as a whole, seeming to lack any inspiration. There might have been a time somewhere around 1970, when this gem would have been considered a midnight weed and wine laced musical sojourn ... but those times have long since passed, leaving too few ears that remember those heady nights to appreciate what might be happening here.
My favorite description goes like this: Fanfare truly is an unashamedly grand affair. From an opulent string section and honking sax to disembodied laughter and bells, the three-minute intro to the title track chucks in so many ingredients that you literally expect to hear the clang of the kitchen sink landing at any moment. When the piano enters the lavishly painted picture, you are in no doubt whatsoever that it’s a white grand parked in the ballroom-sized front room of a seaside mansion. By the time the drums pummel in like particularly ponderous thunder-cracks you wonder whether it might all be a conceptual joke, a painstakingly constructed (60′s/70′s soft-rock legends David Crosby, Graham Nash and Jackson Browne aren’t merely inspirations to various parts of the album, the trio also contribute silky-smooth backing vocals to many a track) tribute to the inspiration-sapped, bloated dross that emerged at the sorry end of the hippie dream that Wilson’s Laurel Canyon-dwelling spiritual forebears famously soundtracked. But I won’t mention names.
All that being said, if you’re willing to accept the fact that Wilson’s sincerely loves the music from the lated 60’s and early 70’s, and that all this is not just some sort of grandiose illusion of foreplay versus genuine passion, then you’re gonna get to the point where the confusion makes sense, and the continual addition of ingredients , though overwhelming, actually begins to sound lush, intoxicating, lavishly dark, obsessive and contemplative; in the epic sense that Dark Side Of The Moon was, in the same manner as Smile, and though totally different, as complex and compelling as Springsteens’ The Wide, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle.
Make no mistake, this is no post Summer of Love addition to musical history, Fanfare for all it is, isn’t, and may be, is an emulation of what once was, by an artist who sincerely believes those days should be brought back, held as a seminal point that should be aspired to ... and with that in mind, I could not agree with him more, I simply wish that Wilson had channeled the less is more concept from those laid back nights of weed and wine.
Review made by Jenell Kesler/2015
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