Never let it be said that drummer Matt Wilson lacks vision or world-class jazz contacts on his first album as a leader.
On As Wave Follows Wave, Wilson recalls his boyhood in rural Illinois with a series of twelve tunes (and even the solo drum cuts could be called "tunes") that are unified by the common theme and sounds of off-the-beaten-track Americana. Proving that you can take the boy out of the farm but that you can't take the farm out of the boy, Wilson employs top-notch big-city musicians to explore acres of emotional complexity sprung loose from an unlikely source and creating an interesting tension and synthesis.
At the age of 31, Wilson seems to be the very image of contrasts and inventiveness that suggest even greater exploration in the future. We have simplicity challenging complexities, free jazz juxtaposed next to groove, solemnity versus humor, unobtrusive ensemble backup breaking loose into idea-filled solos, straight-ahead blues followed by oh-so-serious chanting, an affecting hymn to Don Cherry alongside surprisingly appropriate bird calls and harmonica simulating farm noises, traditional country songs contrasted with the sophistication of Ellington.
To pull it off, Wilson calls on his equally imaginative friends, Dewey Redman and Cecil McBee, who coincidentally hail from the flyover states as well (Redman from Texas and McBee from Oklahoma) and whose musical conceptions need no chorded accompaniment. Nevertheless, Larry Goldings sits in on organ for the quirky Free Range Chicken, the swinging B lue Pepper from Ellington's Far East Suite and the haunting As Wave Follows Wave.
Speaking of which, this homage to Carl Sandberg's poem is certainly appropriate, seeing as how Sandberg was devoted to the state of Illinois and understood the music of the plains. As Wave Follows Wave starts out promisingly as a free-jazz exploration, fulfilling one set of expectations for the CD. But then the subtlety vanishes, and gloom descends as Wilson and friends overstate generational evanescence in a musical Thanatopsis. "Nothing is more certain than death and nothing is more uncertain than the hour.... As wave follows wave, so do new men take old men's places" first is chanted by Wilson and then, oh, it's Larry Goldings too in counterpoint and, wait, there's Cecil McBee chanting as well in an Americanized Greek chorus that rhapsodizes about the eternity of the earth and the mortality of "man". Dewey Redman joins in as well, perhaps looking over his shoulder with McBee at the "new men" on drums and organ.
Thank goodness that downer is followed by an outstanding version of Body and Soul, in which Redman frames Wilson's and McBee's solos with a soulful outpouring of quiet emotion.
Particularly touching is Redman's tender leadership on July Hymn, a deliberately unhurried statement of loss written by Wilson in memory of Don Cherry, an native Oklahoman and Redman's associate with Ornette Coleman's group and Old And New Dreams.
On the flip side, we have mature wit expressed professionally in a barnyard depiction entitled Free Range Chicken, a simulation on tom toms of an Old Porch Swing, and a joyful recollection in Redman's I Remember Lona.
As Wave Follows Wave offers an intelligent unity of theme stated by disparate moods and explorative technique. It's a first album by a promising artist who not only seems to have been diligent in preparation, but also succeeded gratifyingly in execution.