Drummer Matt Wilson has some personal connections to the great Midwestern poet Carl Sandburg in that they were both born in Knox County, Illinois and they are distantly related by marriage. Wilson has long been fascinated by Sandburg's writing and has done musical settings of his work for a long time but with Honey And Salt he finally devotes an entire CD to his poetry.
He does this with the help of several musicians known for their own off-center approaches to Americana such as Ron Miles and Jeff Lederer on the musical side and Bill Frisell and John Scofield who are among the people reciting Sandburg's poetry. The project is grouped into chapters of poems about city life, prairie life and music.
The opening city group is the most varied, starting with Dawn Thomson singing and playing gnarly guitar on "Soup" over a loping Chicago blues shuffle beat with Miles and Lederer playing echoing, staccato riffs. "Anywhere And Everywhere People" is recited by Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry.
The poems about music and creativity start with Jack Black reciting "Snatch Of Sliphorn Jazz" in a gravelly voice as Lederer and Wilson engage in a lively soprano-drum duet. "Paper 2" is a piece of bluesy, after hours saxophone jazz set to Bill Frisell speaking about the creative process, "Trafficker" has Rufus Reid's deep voice painting a sad portrait of a streetwalker over a noirish shuffle and "I Sang" features Thomson's voice soaring plaintively above a melancholy ballad setting of cornet, harmonium and clarinet.
There's also an epilogue with Carla Bley's distinctive voice dryly reciting "To Know Silence Perfectly" before and after a somber statement from the quintet and "Daybreak" ends things on the optimistic note of Thomson singing to a Brazilian carnival rhythm as the horns and drums dance away.
There have been a lot of jazz and poetry combinations done over the years but the sheer eclecticism of this project makes it special. Having the poems sung as well as recited to such a crazy quilt of musical approaches makes you appreciate the variety of Sandburg's writing. Whatever wild setting Wilson dreams up works. The only comparable project I can think of is Carla Bley's collaboration with poet Paul Haines that produced the epic Escalator Over The Hill but this work is more compact and carefree than that. It's a free-wheeling suite with an impish humor that matches its subject. This is, quite simply, the finest work of Matt Wilson's career.
Soup; Anywhere and Everywhere People; As Wave Follows Wave; Night Stuff; We Must Be Polite; Fog; Choose; Prairie Barn; Offering and Rebuff; Stars, Songs, Face; Bringers; Snatch of Sliphorn Jazz; Paper 2; Trafficker; Paper1; I Sang.
Dawn Thomson: vocals, guitar; Ron Miles: cornet; Jeff Lederer: reeds, harmonium, voice; Martin Wind: acoustic bass, voice; Matt Wilson: drums, voice; Jack Black: voice; Christian McBride: voice; John Scofield: voice; Carla Bley: voice; Bill Frisell,: voice; Joe Lovano: voice; Rufus Reid: voice.
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