Monday, June 06, 2016

Matt Wilson's Big Happy Family - Beginning of a Memory (Palmetto Records, 2016)

This is the first album as a leader that drummer and composer Matt Wilson has made since the tragic death of his wife two years ago. Surrounding himself with his closest friends and colleagues from several ensembles he makes a wonderful musical statement that confronts love, loss and renewal. “Searchlight” has bowed bass urgently moving the music forward before the horns begin to enter and really up the ante. They waft around the music in an airy beauty giving the music a beautiful Ellingtonian feel. The pace changes to a choppy natured swing as the horns swirl and Wilson’s subtle percussion underpins everything. The horns fly high and enter into a jocular dogfight with the sky, making for a very exciting and energetic performance. The elegant horns that open “Request Potato” have a painterly feel to them before the music finds a great groove set by the drums getting very funky and some greasy organ thrown in to boot to ramp up the sense of nasty fun, and it really develops a cool sound. The music segues to another recording, which is layered over the top of the first, this one with excellent piano playing with super fast paced horned riffing, making for very imaginative music. There is a great alto saxophone lead into “Andrew’s Ditty” which eventually pulls in the full band and the storming drums of the leader. There are excellent solo spots throughout with fast and loose alto, trumpet and tenor saxophone, all pushed along hard with great support from bass and drums. The horns intertwine at light speed like acrobats, before the leader gets a well-deserved drum solo and takes everybody home. “Schoolboy Thug” is always a joy to hear, it is Wilson at his most uninhibited and fun. It comes out of the gate as a great blast of funky jazz with riffing horns, pounding drums and the sound of everybody having an absolute ball. The horns rip through a stop/start pattern, and Wilson plays massive rolls around them. Trumpet and saxophone solo together and then return to the team to make room for a funky electric bass interlude leading into another memorable drum solo before everyone starts screaming “He’s a School Boy Thug / Yes He Is!” It’s a moment of hysterical fun and over the top joy. It is also a great cathartic statement from Wilson, one that says heartbreak will come but we will persevere and we will continue, and that music can be our salvation in times of our darkest sorrow and our deepest need. Beginning of a Memory -

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