In 1999, Matt Wilson released an album called Smile. But every album the drummer puts out makes you smile. Wilson is by no means a clown-he’s a serious musician, composer and bandleader-but enjoyment is job number one with him. The fourth album by his quartet Arts & Crafts extends this philosophy. Indeed, the only connective tissue among these 11 songs is that the band-with Martin Wind on bass, Terell Stafford on trumpet and flugelhorn and Gary Versace on piano, organ and accordion-enjoys playing them.
The fun is there from note one. The jaunty rhythm and happy-go-lucky melody of Versace’s “Poster Boy” recall the sort of tune the Jazz Messengers or Jazztet would serve up, as Versace’s spiraling phrases do loop-de-loops over a hard-bop backdrop. Organ and trumpet take turns stating the theme of Nat Adderley’s “Little Boy With the Sad Eyes” before overlapping solos ensue: Stafford blowing big, brassy, trill-accented blasts; Versace digging bluesy crevices between the walking bass and the churning hard-bop swing. These two guys turn in fantastic solos again on a cover of Weather Report’s “Teen Town,” which begins with the theme stated tightly in unison by bass, organ and horn.
There’s so much going on in the wonderful hour of An Attitude for Gratitude: pretty ballads; galloping rhythms; the circuslike nuttiness of “Bubbles” (with Wilson reading a Carl Sandburg poem); Stafford playing “There’s No You” unaccompanied on trumpet; and the rhythm section working out Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” supposedly for the first time, in one take.