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Athenaeum Jazz concluded its Spring series of concerts on May 23, with the Anthony Wilson Seasons Guitar Quartet in front of a nearly sold-out house at TSRI in La Jolla, shattering some expectations and succumbing to others in the process.

As a musical experiment, the pairing of four of the country's most virtuosic guitarists came off exceedingly well, primarily because Wilson's acute arranging skills kept things constantly evolving: each player got a chance to carry the melodies, craft a bass line, support the harmonic foundation or solo, more or less equally.

Wilson's clean acoustic sounding instrument led off a drastic retooling of Thelonious Monk's "Work," followed closely by Juilan Lage's more legato turn. Chico Pinheiro and Larry Koonse each traded solos while Wilson comped and Lage walked the bass. The only problem was that the arrangement was so expansive that aside from a few tell-tale intervals, it was hard to hear the Monk in it all.

Koonse introduced Carla Bley's "Jesus Maria," with an outstanding a cappella feature before the rest of the group contributed snatches of the melody, piecemeal, with lush chord-building and momentary dissonances adding to the experience.

Likewise, Lage's "Fake Standard," began alone with a fulsome intro that contained everything but the proverbial kitchen-sink before his associates joined in the processing of an infectious, lilting swing. Wilson turned in a particularly strong solo, saying more with less and making numerous blues connections along the way.

This is the first time I had the chance to hear Pinheiro, so his feature on Monk's "Ask Me Now," was especially gratifying. Pinheiro strings staccato lines together so seamlessly, they become legato in practice, and his brief duet with Koonse was exhilarating except for his amplifier's tendency to distort when he struck a chord with any force behind it.

Wilson's tour-de-force composition "Seasons," closed the concert out, with strong, stair-stepped arpeggios characterizing "Winter," evolving into a sumptuous four-part harmony. "Spring," was the highlight, though, for me. Featuring ecstatic unison playing between two guitars while the others fulfilled harmonic and bass functions, "Spring," was the most completely satisfying realization of the project.

Ultimately, the narrow sonic range and lack of diverse timbre's may keep this ensemble from achieving the kind of lush expansion that we have come to expect from string quartet music or even same-instrument choirs, like the World Saxophone Quartet, for instance, but this concert represented a fresh concept that in its infancy-- (this was only their second gig) -- is loaded with potential.

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