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March 2007

Matt Wilson's Arts & Crafts
The Scenic Route
Palmetto Records

The Scenic Route, the third outing from drummer Matt Wilson’s quartet Arts & Crafts, takes us on an excursion to far-flung places—from the childlike exuberance of the title track to the somber-yet-hopeful medley of Donald Ayler’s “Our Prayer” and John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance.”

The album is dedicated to saxophonist Dewey Redman, who died last year and with whom Wilson had a long association. Redman’s spirit pervades the record, though not in a mournful way. Rather, it is celebrated on tunes such as “In Touch With Dewey,” whose theme expresses nothing but joy. Wilson drums counter-rhythmically until bassist Dennis Irwin carves out a funky line; then Wilson digs in with a grooving beat, trumpeter Terell Stafford blows some New Orleans-style phrases, and Gary Versace lays down soulful passages on the organ. Once the handclaps are thrown in, involuntary head nods ensue.

The calypso-flavored “Feel the Sway” shows what this quartet can do with the barest of material. The song is six minutes of variations on a two-bar vamp, yet the musicians (with Versace on piano and a trio of female vocalists adding texture) find something new each time through. The prankster in Wilson reveals himself on the title tune, a playful melody that has Stafford doing a do-si-do with Versace’s organ. From splendid originals to inventive covers—including the fiery modern jazz of Ornette Coleman’s “Rejoicing,” the straight-up bebop of Thelonious Monk’s “We See” and the sophisticated, loping arrangement of “Tenderly”—this group excels in every way.

Originally published in March 2007
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