Album Remarks & Appraisals:
"Drummer Matt Wilson's Arts and Crafts ensemble has followed a somewhat more mainstream path than some of his previous efforts. With each release, Wilson has been slowly expanding the concept of this unconventional quartet with an eclectic and exploratory ear. Arts & Crafts' third album on Palmetto Records, The Scenic Route, is as varied and rewarding as either of the group's previous efforts.
A solid mainstream player, trumpeter Terell Stafford represents the group's dominant solo voice, acquitting himself well in the company of more free-ranging musicians like organist/pianist Gary Versace, who replaces Larry Goldings this time out. Bassist Dennis Irwin again co-pilots the ensemble alongside Wilson, whose focus on structure and subtle rhythmic variations takes precedence over flashy solos and extroverted playing.
Sideman gigs and collaborations with such luminaries as Charlie Haden, Dewey Redman and Lee Konitz, as well as peers like Ben Allison, Fred Hess and Tom Varner have demonstrated Wilson's aptitude playing everything from standards to free improvisations. This versatility enables the ensemble to vacillate freely between both worlds.
Blending styles and genres, Wilson offers a handful of original tunes presenting a rich overview of the creative possibilities of today's modern mainstream. Invoking the classics, Wilson bolsters his original tunes with buoyant covers of Thelonious Monk ("We See"), Ornette Coleman ("Rejoicing"), Bobby Hutcherson ("Little B's Poem") and Pat Metheny ("The Bat").
Despite the varied palette, this esoteric mix avoids pedestrian eclecticism with careful sequencing, allowing the tunes to flow seamlessly. Wilson even manages to blend vintage Donald Ayler with a Beatles tune on the closing medley, "Our Prayer/Give Peace a Chance," summing up the group's multifarious capabilities. Opening with ethereal free musings on an Ayler-penned gospel/folk-theme, colored by sputtering accordion, winsome clarinet, buzzing trumpet and skittering percussion, they segue into a chanting vocal refrain, blending wearily knowing protest music with timeless forms, making a statement for the ages." -AllAboutJazz
"It's early summer, the sky is clear and warm, and you're half-reclined behind the wheel of a white, American-made convertible, cruising smoothly down the highway. Suddenly you notice that you've drifted off onto the wrong exit ramp. In order to right your blunder, you have to navigate a service road littered with zany, brightly colored bric-a-brac. You finally make it back to the main stretch, but you're doomed to repeat your folly nine more times before the end of your trip.
Were this to actually happen to you, you might have a sense of what it's like to take a journey across the ten tracks on this delightfully seriocomic release from Matt Wilson's Arts and Crafts group. The ten cuts on The Scenic Route are straight-ahead stretches of jazz that whimsically yo-yo the listener onto a service road of quirky sounds and rhythms. These forays are playful and experimental, yet tangible and agreeable. They're much as one would imagine a musical session of arts and crafts to be among a crew of adept musicians.
The inter-musician listening on The Scenic Route is what makes the album sophisticated, in addition to playful - all experiments are treated as serious musical ideas and are encouraged to follow the course to their conclusion. On top of this is Wilson's knack for composition. The bandleader takes advantage of the rare qualities (for a percussionist, anyway) of melodic cleverness and sensitivity. This isn't only communicated in the album's catchy heads - "The Scenic Route," "Feel the Sway," "25 Years of Rootabagas" - but also in Wilson's improvisations, which mold the drum set into the band's fourth melodic instrument.
In the end, the band is tight and the soloists are hot. Wilson's car is alone on the road - not in desertion, but because he seems to be the only one with the acumen to find the way. For anyone wanting a ride, he's picking up passengers as he goes. All you have to do to catch a lift is put on The Scenic Route and feel the sway." -AllAboutJazz
Down Beat (p.70) - 3.5 stars out of 5 -- "[T]rumpeter Terell Stafford is spot on. There's never anything cloyingly studied about his playing."
JazzTimes (p.69) - "From splendid originals to inventive covers...this group excels in every way."
Personnel: Matt Wilson (vocals, drums, percussion); Karlie Bruce (vocals); Gary Versace (accordion, piano, organ); Dennis Irwin (clarinet); Terell Stafford (trumpet, flugelhorn).
Liner Note Author: Matt Wilson .
Recording information: Maggie's Farm, Buck's County, PA (09/08/2006-09/12/2006).
Photographer: Lourdes Delgado.
Unknown Contributor Role: Matt Wilson .
Factionalism has been terrible for the jazz world, which has been plagued with many divisive, ugly debates over the merits of bebop vs. Dixieland, hard bop vs. cool, hard bop vs. fusion, etc.; as one jazz promoter put it, jazz is a small enough market as it is without splitting it up into a bunch of warring factions. But gratefully, jazz has also had its share of flexible, broad-minded individuals, and Matt Wilson's flexibility continues to serve him well on The Scenic Route. As a drummer/composer, Wilson has made it clear that he is comfortable with both inside and outside playing; The Scenic Route is much more inside than outside, although two of the songs that Wilson tackles with pleasing results are Ornette Coleman's "Rejoicing" and Donald Ayler's "Our Prayer" (which is successfully combined with the Beatles' "Give Peace a Chance"). But The Scenic Route, despite some occasional detours into the avant-garde, usually favors a hard bop/post-bop approach; that is the approach that prevails on "We See" (one of Thelonious Monk's lesser-known pearls) as well as Wilson originals that include the pensive "25 Years of Rootabagas," the infectious "Feel the Sway" (which favors a dusky, nocturnal groove along the lines of the theme from The Odd Couple), and the playful title track (a boogaloo). Another highlight of this 56-minute CD is Wilson's thoughtful arrangement of Pat Metheny's "The Bat," which ends up becoming more post-bop than fusion. The drummer oversees a solid team of players on The Scenic Route, including trumpeter/flügelhornist Terell Stafford, pianist/organist Gary Versace, bassist Dennis Irwin, and even a female vocal trio dubbed the Swayettes (who aren't used extensively but provide background vocals on occasion). Despite the Swayettes' presence, The Scenic Route is an instrumental album first and foremost -- and it is also a consistently appealing illustration of the open-mindedness that Wilson brings to the table. ~ Alex Henderson
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