May 26, 2003
After a while, its embarrassing to keep repeating it, but Matt Wilson has emerged as one of the most accomplished — if not the most accomplished — inside/outside drummer of the 21st century.
Wilson, whose inside credentials include membership in mainstream pianist Bill Mays trio, and whose outside work includes being a part of the experimental Jazz Composers Collective, demonstrates once again on his own discs that he can switch effortlessly from the cerebral to the demonstrative. HUMIDITY provides 12 sizzling examples of this.
Appropriately enough, he begins this CD with a salute to the late Billy Higgins, another jazzman whose versatility allowed him to play on alto saxophonist Ornette Colemans first earth-shattering LPs, then turn around and record the funkiest Blue Note sessions. Informed by Colemans unique sense of rhythm, Thank You Billy Higgins, written by Wilson like all others but three here, suggests a pastiche of Ornettes early compositions. On it Wilson emulates the foot-tapping, shuffle rhythm of Higgins, a drummer whose playing he said he experienced as a life changing experience.
Another track that will soothe the traditionalists, is the bands more than 6½-minute version of Tadd Damerons bop classic, Our Delight. Given an amiable, ambling beat from Wilsons cymbals and door-knocking rim shots, at times youd swear the drum work comes from Ur-bopper Roy Haynes. Although the horns play off one anothers lines, alto man Andrew DAngelo and tenor saxist Jeff Lederer arent afraid to add some non-boppish slurs and altered notes to the tune.
The composition follows another exercise in modern traditionalism, Lederers arrangement of McHugh-Fields Dont Blame Me. On top of conventional plucked bass and restrained drumbeats, the head is advanced with screechy alto split tones that meet shakes and flutter tonguing from the deeper tenor saxophone.
Free Willy is a pulsating freeboppish DAngelo line that sounds like would have happened if some New Thingers had infiltrated the 1960s Jazz Messengers. Performed staccatissimo, it has the horn men howling at the skies before, as per the tradition, trading fours. Yosuke Inoues walking bass and Wilsons rolling rhythms keep things on an even keel.
Although there are as many allusions here to standards and Ellingtonian color as out-of-the-ordinary rhythms and World sounds, the Wilson coterie shouldnt be mistaken for one of those retreading neo-con combos, however. One of the drummers tunes for instance, is inspired by the poetry of Carl Sandburg; a couple of others wouldnt exist, except for the extended playing techniques and compositional emancipation brought to the music by Free Jazz.
Several compositions, especially those that add trumpeter John Carlson, trombonist Curtis Hasselbring and violinist Felicia Wilson to the basic quartet, are even artier. The title tune, for instance, manages to combine a finger-snapping beat with an overall theme that swirls about just this side of cacophony. Finally its brought to fruition with ringing chimes, plunger trombone lines, a single-lined contralto clarinet part, legit violin tones and triple time drumming.
Raga, despite its title, combines intimations of Peking opera, a Brazilian beat and a short South Asian measure. Beginning with clanking gongs, the theme advances with a sour sounding alto tone and single, powerful cymbal crack. Although every quartet members may be shaking hand bells, this is yet another foot tapper, with the theme wiggling from Far Eastern to Klezmer territory first from the massed horns, then from Wilsons kit. Setting up some jazzy, raga-like bounces, Wilson also gives Inoue scope for some sawing and sliding arco work.
HUMIDITY is another hot platter from Wilson & Co. that should please jazzbos of every school. Right now, with all his pliability and talent, though, it seems that the only challenge left for the drummer is to make a CD of completely free music.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Thank You Billy Higgins 2. Swimming in the Trees*@% 3. Cooperation 4. Free Willy 5. Wall Shadows 6. Raga 7. Code Yellow 8. Humidity+@% 9. Dont Blame Me 10. Our Delight 11. All My Children 12. Beginning Of A Memory%
Personnel: John Carlson (trumpet*, pocket trumpet+); Curtis Hasselbring (trombone@); Andrew DAngelo (alto saxophone, bass clarinet, handbells); Jeff Lederer (tenor and soprano saxophones, clarinet and handbells); Felicia Wilson (violin%); Yosuke Inoue (bass and electric bass, handbells); Matt Wilson (drums, percussion, chimes, Univox, handbells)