Ottawa Jazz Festival Day 10: June 30, 2007
The line-up may have changed with drummer Matt Wilson's Arts & Crafts, with pianist/organist David Berkman replacing Larry Goldings and trumpeter Mike Rodriguez taking the place of Terell Stafford, leaving bassist Dennis Irwin as the remaining original member, but the same combination of adventurous playing and humorous delivery that have been there since the beginning remained intact during the last show of the 2007 Studio series.
Wilson, who'd experienced flight delays on not one but two flights between his home in Connecticut and Ottawa, was remarkably nonplussed by a day that began at 4:30 AM and finished long after the group's hundred-minute performance ended well after midnight. Appearing onstage with a construction helmet, he dedicated the show to "the mechanics of Air Canada because they couldn't fix two planes." Any other artist would arrive in a less jovial mood, but Wilson later quoted alto legend Phil Woods, remarking "you don't get paid to play, you get paid to get there, making my hourly wage pretty low today."
Culled largely from Wilson's The Scenic Route (Palmetto, 2007), it was a characteristically eclectic set that ranged from Pat Metheny's lyrical ballad "The Bat" to Wilson's "Free Range Chicken," a symmetrical tune that moved from a free opening to a slapsticky Western theme and loosely funky solo section, only to back out to the theme and free outro at its conclusion.
Berkman, whose own Palmetto discs have demonstrated the stylistic breadth and open-mindedness necessary to work with Arts & Crafts, was a double threat on piano and B-3. Locked in tightly with Wilson, he sprang plenty of surprises in both his solos and accompaniment. Rodriguez is the relative newcomer, not just to Arts & Crafts but to the New York scene, but he consistently delivered solos that demonstrated technical breadth though never at the expense of attention and responsiveness to the rest of the group. Irwin, a pillar of strength if a quiet legend, has played with everyone from Art Blakey to John Scofield and Joe Lovano. Always a firm but flexible support player, he was also a strong soloistand a fine clarinetist. It's a little-known fact that clarinet was his first instrument, and that it's still a part of his arsenal, having recently appeared in a classical performance featuring another bassist, the ubiquitous, ever-in-demand Marc Johnson. After a brief clarinet solo spot, Irwin doubled up with Rodriguez for the theme to Don Ayler's "Our Prayer," before returning to bass for an extended version of the iconic Beatles song "Give Peace a Chance" that closed the set.
It was on that final piece, as well as Wilson's own "Feel the Sway" from earlier in the set, that the drummer- leader went from humorous front man to rabble-rouser. On the latter he encouraged the audience to stand up, saying, "To sign a contract in Canada you need to break to let the audience stand every forty minutes," then chanting "Canada Day, Canada Sway." He had already rehearsed the audience on the former number, getting them to clap and chant, then giving three teenagers in the front row percussion instruments and encouraging them (as though they needed much) to follow him as he walked throughout the audience, snare in hand.
l:r" David Berkman, Mike Rodriguez, Dennis Irwin, Matt Wilson
Audience participation and comedy aside, Wilson's a remarkably loose and intuitive drummer, capable of powerful grooves and experimental free play. That he seems to be having so much fun doing it is part of the charm, and it's that combination of seriousness about his chosen art and a complete irreverence towards same that makes Arts & Crafts such a unique bandone, moreover, that's genuinely hard to "get" until seen in performance.
Tomorrow: Free shows for Canada Day and Festival Wrap-Up.
Visit Freddy Cole, Hilario Duran, Matt Wilson and the TD Canada Trust Ottawa International Jazz Festival on the web.