Matt Wilson’s Big Happy Family: Beginning of A Memory

Mark Sullivan By

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For this mostly retrospective session drummer/composer Matt Wilson convened all of the members—past and present—of his longest established groups: the Matt Wilson Quartet, Arts & Crafts, and Christmas Tree-O. So it's not only a larger ensemble than usual, but also a melding of the different stylistic focuses represented by those projects. There are 13 players altogether, and although they don't all play on everything, most of them play on most of the tracks. The core group included all five horn players, plus Wilson and bassists Martin Wind and Paul Sikivie. These players recorded the basic tracks without written arrangements, a remarkable act of trust and spontaneity. As this album was recorded to celebrate the life of the drummer's late wife Felicia Wilson, it's also a spirit appropriate to the occasion.

Wilson's recordings as a leader are characterized by an adventurous, eclectic spirit, as well as musical humor (a rare commodity in jazz these days). The repertoire he chose for this album reflects the whole range. The title tune was originally recorded by the Matt Wilson Quartet on Humidity (Palmetto Records, 2003), with Felicia making a guest appearance on violin. Its stately theme is only enhanced by the additional horns. "Flowers for Felicia" benefits from Gary Versace's delicate piano accompaniment and co-producer Matt Balitsaris' beautiful acoustic guitar and dobro. Versace (the keyboardist in Arts & Crafts) had to overdub his parts, but you would never know it from the sound. Space was left in "25 Years of Rootabagas" for him to take an accordion solo, which obviously required some planning.

"Go Team Go!/Endless Love" is a splendid example of Wilson's sense of humor, and has the distinction of including all four bassists involved in the project. In some ways the horn free-for-all is less raucous than the original quartet version on Smile (Palmetto Records, 1999)—instead of blasting away simultaneously, the horns have fun tossing the fanfare figures around. Bassist Yosuke Inoue makes his only appearance, contributing a version of Lionel Richie's "Endless Love." Pianist Larry Goldings also contributed a solo track, his arrangement of "How Ya Goin'?" from Gathering Call (Palmetto Records, 2014). Perhaps the most striking new arrangement is saved for last. "July Hymn" was a feature for saxophonist Dewey Redman on As Wave Follows Wave (Palmetto Records, 1996), but closes out the album re-imagined as a horn chorale. It's a lovely ending to an album full of joy, beauty and fun.

Track Listing: Score; Lester; Searchlight; Beginning of a Memory; Request Potato; How Ya Goin’?; Father of the Year; Getting Friendly; Andrew’s Ditty; Flowers for Felicia (Orchids-Wildwood Flower); No Outerwear; Potato Radio; Go Team Go!/Endless Love; 25 Years of Rootabagas; Feel the Sway; Schoolboy Thug; July Hymn.

Personnel: Terell Stafford: trumpet; Kirk Knuffke: cornet; Jeff Lederer: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, clarinet; Joel Frahm: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Andrew D’Angelo: alto saxophone, bass clarinet; Gary Versace: piano, organ, accordion; Larry Goldings; piano; Martin Wind: acoustic bass; Paul Sikivie: acoustic bass; Yosuke Inoue: acoustic bass; Chris Lightcap: acoustic bass, electric bass; Matt Balitsaris: acoustic guitar, dobro; Matt Wilson: drums.

Title: Beginning of A Memory | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Palmetto Records


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