Whenever he plays, drummer Matt Wilson exudes an infectious enthusiasm that affects audience and musicians alike. It is one of the qualitiesalong with his sheer musicality and the technical facility to play inside and outsidethat has attracted a range of bandleaders to Wilson. His book is so full with sideman dates that it's a wonder he finds time to develop music for his two ensembles.
On The Scenic Route, Wilson leads a modified version of his Arts & Crafts quartet, with Gary Versace (organ, piano and accordion) replacing Larry Goldings. The group is rounded out by trumpeter Terell Stafford and bassist (and sometimes clarinetist) Dennis Irwin, also augmented with vocals by The Swayettes on select tracks.
Wilson dedicates the recording to the late Dewey Redman, with whom he played for almost twelve years and whom he cites as a major inspiration. Typical of Wilson, the music is not mournful, but celebratory of Redman's legacy. The combination of originals and interpretations of Monk, Ornette, Albert Ayler and Pat Metheny is energetic and fun, without being superficial or ironic. The title track opens with a relentless groove from Irwin and Wilson, and Versace makes his presence immediately felt with a greasy organ line that locks in, while Stafford bounces along articulating the quirky melody.
Monk's oft-covered "We See" gets a brisk but straight treatment that accentuates the memorable tune. Wilson's "In Touch With Dewey" has a tight unison head that breaks away to provide thematic material for solos from Stafford, Irwin and Versace as the leader spurs them with a variety of rhythmic shifts underneath. Elegiac tones swell during Ayler's "Our Prayer," colored by Versace's accordion. Wilson's fitful drumming builds into a brushed shuffle groove that announces a segue to the Lennon/McCartney classic "Give Peace a Chance," the Swayettes handling the bemused refrain as the music lightens for an optimistic conclusion.
Wilson covers a swath of musical territory with Arts & Crafts, knowing that getting there is at least half the fun.
The Scenic Route; We See; 25 Years of Rootabagas; Feel the Sway; Rejoicing; The Bat; In Touch with Dewey; Little B's Poem; Tenderly; Our Prayer/Give Peace a Chance.
Matt Wilson: drums, percussion, vocals; Terell Stafford: trumpet, flugelhorn; Gary Versace: piano, organ, accordion; Dennis Irwin: double bass, clarinet; Karlie Bruce, Ayana Del Valle, Elizabeth Dotson-Westphalen: vocals.