Matt Wilson's Arts & Crafts: Wake Up! (To What's Happening)

Eric J. Iannelli By

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Wake Up! (To What's Happening) is drummer Matt Wilson's first album after realizing, thanks to the unintentional example set by his children, that he'd been going about things all wrong. Well, not wrong, exactly—just differently.

"The more I play improvised music," he writes in the closest thing to an explanatory preface, "the less I want to understand it." For years he has taken what he views as a deliberate approach to music-making (though still one that won him substantial critical acclaim, not to mention Number One Rising Star Drummer of 2004 in the annual Downbeat poll); now he just wants to play freely and from the heart. Ironically, this willful reversion to a more impulsive and unsophisticated creative ethos could itself be interpreted as a heady philosophical exercise, pace Nietzsche, who advised us to approach life first with the capacity for burden and travel of a camel, then with the cunning and ferocity of a lion, and finally with the innocent inquisitiveness of a child.

Whatever the justification—highbrow, lowbrow or just plain old Emersonian whim— Wake Up! has an unmistakable air of carefree jubilancy about it, like a man who's finally able to dance after his cast has been removed. The album features a careful balance of subdued tracks, such as Jaki Byard's "Aluminum Baby," an interesting take on "Silence" by Charlie Haden, and Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Luiza"; but these might simply be considered islands of necessary respite amid the festivities. Even the closing "Meditative Reprise" of the fourth track, Tony Williams' "There Comes a Time" (on which guest vocalist Curtis Stigers urges us to take the album's title to heart), suggests the mood after a party when the guests have gone, the mess has yet to be cleaned, and the host takes a few quiet moments to reflect on everything that's happened.

For this followup to Arts & Crafts' eponymous disc from 2001, the bandleader has reunited to a man the Matt Wilson quartet that isn't the Matt Wilson Quartet. And to great effect. Wilson's original chart "Free Range Chicken" is a zany, soulful tune, albeit one that has a few bars eerily in common with "That's All" by Genesis. Larry Goldings churns out some spectacularly tasty grooves on his B3. Thus is this free-range chicken fried. Goldings' "Sticky Mack," while relatively brief, features some fine solos; Wilson keeps a steady beat that never seems to sustain the same pattern for longer than three seconds. Bassist Dennis Irwin switches to clarinet for the traditional "Cuban Carnival Song," the album's zesty crowd-pleaser.

It would be easy to mistake the amusement, popular appeal and delight on Wake Up! for celebratory party jazz, if such a genre exists. But the music here is manifestly more than that; the performers just prefer to exercise their respective talents in subtle ways. Wilson's mild awakening has produced some excellent results indeed.

Track Listing: 1 Sticky Mack 3:44 2 Free Range Chicken 5:49 3 Aluminum Baby 6:34 4 There Comes a Time 7:17 5 Luiza 5:44 6 Cuban Carnival Song 2:38 7 Silence 4:27 8 We'll Be Together Again 5:06 9 Fast Edd 5:31 10 There Comes a Time (Meditative Reprise) 4:23

Personnel: Larry Goldings: Organ, Piano; Dennis Irwin: Bass, Clarinet; Terell Stafford: Trumpet, Flugelhorn; Curtis Stigers: Vocals; Matt Wilson: Drums.

Title: Wake Up! (To What's Happening) | Year Released: 2004 | Record Label: Palmetto Records


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