Matt_wilson-smile_span3
December 1999

Matt Wilson Quartet
Smile
Palmetto Records

Drummer-composer Matt Wilson is a jovial fellow, both on and off the bandstand. A keen listener with audacious instincts, he can swing convincingly in a pure jazzbo context, as on a blazing version of Trane's "Grand Central" here or a more relaxed rendition of Monk's "Boo Boo's Birthday." But he also has a mischievous penchant for irony and juxtaposition, which came across on the raucous "School Boy Thug" from last year's Going Once, Going Twice and on at least a few cuts from this third project as a leader, including "Wooden Eye," the angular backbeat number "Big Butt," the freeblowing "Go Team Go!," an explosive showcase for Matt's abandon on the kit, and a tongue-in-cheek take on the Dixieland nugget, "I've Found a New Baby."

Wilson's interest in experimenting with subtle colors and textures on the kit is brilliantly demonstrated on "A Dusting of Snow," an ethereal soundscape in which he uses both brushes and chains on the snare. A sucker for melody, he also shows a highly romantic side on a gorgeous, rubato rendition of the Sinatra anthem, "Strangers in the Night," another example of his Paul Motian-influenced approach to brushes.

Longtime Wilson associates Joel Frahm on tenor and soprano saxes and Andrew D'Angelo on alto sax and bass clarinet strike an uncanny blend throughout, complementing and echoing each other's statements in near-telepathic fashion, a chemistry perhaps best exemplified on "Boo Boo's Birthday" and "Strangers in the Night." Frahm blows heroically on "Wooden Eye," Matt's homage to his friend and employer Dewey Redman. D'Angelo can be especially provocative on bass clarinet, as we hear on his own raucous "Big Butt" and on Wilson's hypnotic "Cinderblock Shelter." He brings that same irreverent quality to bear on the alto, in which his playing comes directly out of the Marshall Allen school of stratospheric overblowing. But both saxophonists can also deliver with uncommon sensitivity and lyricism, as on "Daymaker (For Audrey)," a gentle fugue for Wilson's infant daughter in which the drummer lays out completely.

Joyful, imaginative, artful, fun stuff. The title says it all.

Originally published in December 1999
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