Open-minded and unselfish. Good moral qualities, but are they good musical ones as well?
In drummer Matt Wilson's case, the answer is mostly yes on his latest album Wake Up! (To What's Happening) , reuniting the Arts And Crafts quartet that released a relatively straight-ahead album by that name in '01. Wilson, an exceptional player whose albums often involve a fair amount of experimentation with varying degrees of success, puts out a generally very listenable disc here, although the most unpredictable moments feel more ill-conceived than adventurous.
This is overall a mainstream jazz album, but Wilson refuses to be boxed in by formula, with swing, blues, primitive fusion and funk among the elements scattered liberally throughout. Tracks suitable for a piano bar, Mardi Gras and a 1960s basement dance party are all found here.
Wilson's choice of fellow players is critical, because he seldom is at the forefront of the songs. Fortunately, trumpeter Terell Stafford and pianist Larry Goldings, both accomplished lead artists, are well-suited to their featured roles. Stafford in particular stands out, offering sparse thoughtful serenades and furiously intense growling that are skin-tight fits for the various musical skeletons. Goldings is nearly as effective on piano and various electronic keys, coming in a notch below only because he often is supporting Stafford instead of coexisting as a leader.
The collaboration results in mostly above-average, but seldom top-of-the-line playing. Wilson's best moments come on "Cuban Carnival Song," a wide-open Latin exchange with Stafford, and "Fast Edd," a furious post bop tune that also gives bassist Dennis Irwin one of his few featured moments. Wilson is also effective with his whisper-quiet backing to Goldings' various haunting electronic textures and Stafford's absolutely gorgeous use of sparse phrasing on "Silence."
The most out-of-character piece is "There Comes A Time," sort of a late '60s-early '70s electric fusion piece featuring Curtis Stigers on a rather discordant and not terribly deep set of lyrics (including, rather appropriately, "there comes a time to get out of what's happening."). It's so out of place I had to check the stereo to make sure I was still playing the same album. It's not a bad songStafford, Goldings and Wilson provide great freeform supportbut for some reason the phrase "identity crisis" kept coming to mind throughout.
A "meditative" version of "There Comes A Time" at the album is proof of Wilson's comfort in letting others take center stage, as both the vocals and his drumming are missing from what turns out to be an intriguing collaborative duet.
Wilson's best work remains his contributions on a number of others' albums, but this is one of his better efforts as a leader and certainly suitable for fans and those looking for an introduction to his work. The only criticism, if it can be called that, is a sense of wanting him to take that final step and reach the top rung of modern jazz recordings he so clearly is capable of and seems inevitably destined to reach.
Personnel: Matt Wilson, drums; Terell Stafford, trumpet, flugelhorn; Larry Goldings, piano; Dennis Irwin, bass,
clarinet; Curtis Stigers, vocals (4)