The Tony Wilson Sextet shows off its soul-jazz smarts with The People Look Like Flowers at Last

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      The People Look Like Flowers at Last (Drip Audio)

      If the lonesome harmonica prelude doesn’t give it away, the incandescent guitar solo that follows surely will: the first nine tracks of Tony Wilson’s new CD do not add up to a straightforward reading of Benjamin Britten’s Lachrymae. Instead, the Hornby Island guitarist and master arranger is even more free with Britten’s viola showcase than the English composer was with the John Dowland song that inspired him, spinning it through a set of variations that range from lean, loping art rock to frenzied free-jazz noise.

      Even for this uncompromising musician, Lachrymae is a dense, demanding piece of work, but it’s not without its sensual pleasures—especially the Latin-inflected riff that powers “Movement #1”. Perversely, though, Wilson keeps the most accessible track for last—and it’s another tribute of sorts, although what bluegrass great Bill Monroe contributed to “Variation on a Theme” remains obscure to this listener. Driven by unusually assertive drums from Dylan van der Schyff and a fierce Paul Blaney bass line, this Wilson original sounds more like soul-jazz with smarts—and despite its writer’s island abode, it’s as hip as anything coming out of any urban jazz mecca.