Arts and Crafts
Palmetto records PM 2069

Neo cons may pontificate as much as they want about their narrow definition of "true jazz", but an unabashed mainstream session like this one easily shows that so-called avant garde sounds long ago became part of the common vocabulary of most improvised musicians.

Among the tunes you'll find nestled on this session among ones by George Gershwin and Bud Powell, and including a bossa nova and a Welsh folk song, is a Rahsaan Roland Kirk swinger, an Ornette Coleman gospel-blues rocker, and the leader's disconsolate tribute to the late Art Ensemble of Chicago trumpeter Lester Bowie.

True, if drummer-leader Matt Wilson was called up before a McCarthyite-style House UnJazz Activities Committee, he'd probably be forced to admit that he played in the bands of saxophonist Dewey Redman and bassist Cecil McBee — no favorites of the Jazz Orthodoxy. But what about his fellow travelers? Pianist Larry Goldings has worked with guitarists John Scofield and Jim Hall and trumpeter Terell Stafford was in the neo-bop combo Horizon for a few years. Even general utility man, bassist Dennis Irwin, besides work in the bands of the likes of tenorist Joe Lovano, Scofield and Mel Lewis, even put in time with the Jazz Messengers, the neo cons holy grail of modern music.

Maybe the band members — undeniably tainted with freedom — will all be hustled off to the jazz reeducation camps being built around Lincoln Center. Or perhaps some of the neo cons — those who aren't already drifting off into the lucrative fields of hip hop fusion by now — will realize that the only way for orthodox jazz to evolve is to mix in ideas from other sources — even the dreaded avant garde.

Wilson's group proves that in spades. Stafford's plunger work is sufficiently raunchy and dirty on the "Lester", for instance, even if Wilson operates more as a colorist than a timekeeper. Midway between doo-wop and the blues, the song also boasts some deep-dish pianisms from Goldings. And, come to think of it, why shouldn't there be a few standard tunes honoring ring mainman, Mr. B., compared to the hundreds turned out for Louis Armstrong, Clifford Brown and the (pre-1970) Miles Davis?

"Old Gospel," which Coleman recorded on trumpet with altoist Jackie McLean, shouldn't send anyone scurrying for the concert halls either. A straightforward swinger, juiced by Stafford's open horn and some off centre gospel chords from the pianist, it's about as subversive as when the Dixie Hummingbirds recorded with Paul Simon.

Elsewhere, as on "Love Walked In", the trumpeter is as melodic as any of the highly-praised little Wyntons, the pianist comps like a neo-Red Garland, while Irwin and Wilson fuse together like any 1950s Prestige Records rhythm team.

If there's any criticism that could be directed towards this session it's that Wilson doesn't step forward often enough as a percussionist. But since he obviously doesn't see a solo disc as an empty percussion display and ARTS & CRAFTS is designed to be a compositional, rather than a performance, showcase, that can overlooked.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Stompin' Ground 2. Lester 3. Webb City 4. Beija Flor 5. Final Answer 6. There's No You 7. Arts & Crafts 8. Old Gospel 9. Love Walked In 10. All Through The Night