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Matt Wilson: Honey And Salt

Mark Sullivan By

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Drummer/composer Matt Wilson has a long-standing interest in Carl Sandburg's poetry: his debut as a leader, Wave Follows Wave (Palmetto, 1996), was named for a Sandburg poem; Humidity (Palmetto, 2003) included a Sandburg setting of "Wall Shadows"; and An Attitude for Gratitude (Palmetto, 2012) featured the Sandburg-inspired "Bubbles." But this project (begun in 2002 with the help of a Chamber Music America New Works grant) is entirely inspired by the poetry, and coincides with the 50th anniversary of Sandburg's death in July 1967, while looking ahead to January 2018 and the 140th anniversary of his birth.

The poetic inspiration is definitely not something tacked on after the fact: it suffuses the entire album, whether Sandburg's words are being spoken or sung, or not. "Soup" opens the album with the poetry set to a gut-bucket blues, Dawn Thomson first singing the words, then interpreting them with a guitar solo, followed by Ron Miles' cornet and Jeff Lederer's reeds. The first reading falls to double bassist Christian McBride on "Anywhere and Everywhere People," followed by Wilson himself on "As Wave Follows Wave" (accompanied by Miles' beautiful unaccompanied cornet).

"Night Stuff" finds Thomson on vocals again, followed by guitarist John Scofield reading Sandburg's hilarious advice for how to best greet a gorilla (to a Bo Diddley beat). "Fog" features a recording of Sandburg himself reading one of his most famous poems, accompanied by Wilson's drums. And "Choose" ends the album's Chapter One with a march enthusiastically sung by most of the band—arguably not really jazz at all, with no solos or obvious improvisation.

Chapter Two begins with a reading from band member Jeff Lederer, and three songs sung by Dawn Thomson. Chapter Three features a dazzling array of readers: actor Jack Black, guitarist Bill Frisell, bassist Rufus Reid, and saxophonist Joe Lovano. Unexpected though some of these reader choices may be, they all do a great job, supported by appropriate music. The Epilogue includes a recitation from composer Carla Bley, a narrator with long experience narrating in her own work, going back to Escalator Over The Hill (JCOA, 1971). "Daybreak" ends the set with a vocal setting, the final line "Soon now, soon" echoed by the entire band as it fades out.

Honey and Salt (a title taken from a 1963 collection of Sandburg's poetry) captures the combination of savory and sweet that characterizes both the poet's and the drummer's work. Populist art, but with an edge. Wilson has created one of the most effective combinations of jazz and poetry here, aided by a great band and an all-star cast of guest narrators.

Track Listing: 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.

Personnel: 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.

Title: Honey And Salt | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Palmetto Records

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