Good drummers keep time and move things forward. Great drummers also sculpt sonic space, expanding and contracting it, shaping it to the musical purpose at hand. Matt Wilson belongs to the latter category.
You can catch this much-in-demand drummer at the Outpost on Thursday leading his Arts and Crafts quartet (Terell Stafford, trumpet, flugelhorn; Gary Versace, piano, organ, accordion; Dennis Irwin, bass, clarinet) when they cruise in for a musical romp in support of their excellent new CD, The Scenic Route (Palmetto Records).
“I’m very happy with this record, I’m very proud of this band,” Wilson says, almost before the phone interview begins. He has good reason. The recording ranges effortlessly over a wide variety of material, including four engaging Wilson originals and compositions by Donald Ayler/John Lennon, Ornette Coleman, Bobby Hutcherson, Pat Metheny and Thelonious Monk.
On all of it, you can hear the group’s hallmark: joyous interplay and a sense of fun, which have been well-honed in the six years the group’s been playing.
“It’s a serious craft, but you can’t take it too seriously, you know?” says Wilson, in his speedy, paradiddle delivery. “I just feel like you open up everyone emotionally, [everyone] seems more accepting and everyone seems a little more involved when the musicians seem like they’re having a good time.”
Of course, the bandleader’s choice of players and his attitude contribute immensely to that vibe. Wilson’s “aesthetic of bandleading” has its roots in his many years playing with the late Dewey Redman, from whom he learned that “you pick people [because] for some reason you know they’re the right people for whatever you’re doing, and that’s all you really have to do.”
Wilson says people have commented that the new CD sounds like “Terell Stafford’s record.” Rather than take offense, Wilson takes it as a compliment, recalling something Redman once told him: “You know, people always sound their best when they play with me.”
It wasn’t bragging, Wilson says, though there was a note of pride in it. Rather, it was an observation about the freedom Redman allowed his players, who responded with great performances. Wilson took the lesson to heart.
Today, he says, you might sum up his approach as “no expectations, no disappointments.”
Judging from the CD, the approach is working. Stafford does turn in stunning performances, but Versace, who has replaced Larry Goldings on the keyboards, and Irwin are no slouches, either.
“Gary’s the busiest man in show business,” Wilson says. “He’s great.”
Irwin and Wilson shared a ride to a gig back in 1993 and just clicked. Wilson chose him for his gut string sound and his musical scope. Asked what specifically in Irwin’s sound grabbed him, Wilson says: “It’s him. With [all these guys], the instrument is the medium, but the sound is in the person, the music is in the person.”
For Wilson, the room is something of a medium, too, and he’s looking forward to playing the Outpost again, where he most recently appeared with Denny Zeitlin.
“There’s always something special about that room out there,” he says. “I have these little pockets ... places where—maybe enough people have played or enough love has been put behind the organization of the place—great things happen, and the Outpost is one of those places.
“There’s a thing that just accumulates in the room ... like a coating on the walls,” he says. “Good-time sonic residue—great name for a record, man.”
With that residue and something that Wilson calls the “El Patio factor” working in their favor, Arts and Crafts should give Albuquerque listeners quite a ride.