The Matt Wilson Quartet
- Matt Wilson - drums
- Jeff Lederer - saxopones
- Kirk Knuffke - cornet
- Chris Lightcap - bass
- John Medeski - piano
About Matt Wilson Quartet
The Matt Wilson Quartet is now in its 16th year, I am proud to have been a member since September 2009. I first met Matt when he played a set with a big band iI as in led by Andrew D'angelo and Curtis Hasselbring. We hit it off and he hired me for a few great gigs playing at senior centers, an amazing program sponsored by Jazz at Lincoln center. A few months after those I was a full time member of the band! Matt and I have played a bunch since 2009 with his quartet as well as Sifter, Jeff Lederer's quartet and with Ted Brown. It is such a great pleasure to play and travel with these guys. Jeff Lederer and Chris Lightcap are true masters of their instruments as well as great friends.
We recorded our quartet augmented John Medeski for Palmetto records entitled "Gathering Call". Most recently Matt combined his 2 quartets this one and his other group "Arts and Crafts" to form a large group called "The Big Happy Family", it is also augmented by past members of each group! The CD entitled "Beginning of a Memory" on Palmetto records. It recieved a Five Star review in Downbeat magazine.
Onstage, a Single Band, With a Split Personality
By NATE CHINEN, The New York Times
Matt Wilson unveiled an expanded version of his working group at Iridium on Wednesday night — or maybe it was two groups, depending on the whim of the moment. Near the end of the first set, it was possible to imagine a borderline across the stage, as half of the musicians played a Mozart string quartet and the other half gradually muscled in, urgent and bleary, with “What Reason Could I Give,” an enigmatic ballad by Ornette Coleman. The two halves were working at cross purposes, but with a playful air.
Enlarge This Image
Brian Harkin for The New York Times
Matt Wilson The drummer led his band at Iridium on Wednesday.
Mr. Wilson, a jazz drummer constitutionally averse to pretension, has led his quartet since the mid-1990s, pushing an agenda of audacity, flexibility and friskiness. The band, with Jeff Lederer on saxophones, Kirk Knuffke on cornet and Chris Lightcap on bass, specializes in rugged, small-scale epiphanies, following up on the epic example of Mr. Coleman. This was the group’s first-ever performance with strings, and it felt brightly provisional, free of hang-ups about compatibility. It wasn’t stiff or overworked.
The set actually included two of Mr. Coleman’s themes: “What Reason Could I Give” melted into “Broken Shadows,” another piece from 1971. Both featured declarative guest vocals by Mary LaRose and a calmly burbling churn in the rhythm section. Mr. Wilson dedicated these songs to the saxophonist Dewey Redman, a former mentor and a participant in the original recordings; Mr. Redman, who died in 2006, also lurked in the DNA of “The Gathering Call,” a springy set opener with an abrupt, ascending melody.
This was all courting heady abstraction, but Mr. Wilson and his band mates have a way of pushing through brambles with exuberance. (That tendency hasn’t gone unnoticed: in a couple of weeks, they will appear on Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Jazz for Young People series, in a pair of concerts gamely titled “What Is Free Jazz?”) Within the band’s expressive mode, its front line modeled a handy contrast. Mr. Lederer was woollier, more guttural, a compendium of wheezes, honks and squeals; Mr. Knuffke took a deliberate path, with elliptical phrases and a coolly understated tone.
The string quartet — Nicole Federici on viola, Alisa Horn on cello and Skye Steele and Felicia Wilson, Mr. Wilson’s wife, on violin — flickered around the margins, playing interludes or accents mostly arranged by Mr. Lederer. On “Some Assembly Required,” a klezmerlike romp, and “If I Were a Boy,” a Beyoncé cover, Mr. Steele doubled the main melodic line, sighing or plucking, while the others lent background accompaniment.
Behind everything was Mr. Wilson’s smartly skittering pulse, along with his rummaging sense of invention. At one point he stood up to lead his quartet in a mock-ceremonial prelude, ringing toy hand-bells; later he recited “Bubbles,” a Carl Sandburg poem, with a goofy sincerity. And before plunging into the final tune, a soulful shuffle repurposed for the hybrid ensemble, he joked that its title could apply to jazz and classical music. It was “Cats and Dogs Living Together,” a giddy highlight of the set.
Matt Wilson Band Plus Strings: Live Iridium, New York City on May 20, 2010
By Bill Milkowski, Jazz Times
Over the past 15 years or so that he has been gigging around New York as a drummer and bandleader, Matt Wilson has never failed to bring an element of surprise and unabashed joy to the bandstand, along with an irrepressible, goofy smile that always conveys to the audience that he is indeed having big-time fun up there on stage. A serious artist with a wacky sense of humor, Wilson respects the jazz tradition and pays sincere homage to its elders. And yet, he is not above placing wind-up toys on his snare or blowing little plastic horns or slide whistles (no doubt borrowed from one of his triplet boys – Henry, Max, Ethan -- or his daughter Audrey) when the irreverent mood strikes.
Just back from a tour of Australia, where he played wide open trio gigs in the spirit of Sonny Rollins’ pianoless trio recordings from 1957 (Way Out West, A Night at the Village Vanguard) with bassist John Hebert and tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger, Wilson unveiled an expanded edition of his group comprised of his working quartet (Jeff Lederer on tenor sax and clarinet, Kirk Knuffke on cornet, Chris Lightcap on bass) and augmented by a flexible string quartet featuring his wife Felicia Wilson on violin, Skye Steele on violin, Nicole Federici on viola and Alisa Horn on cello. This inspired marriage of freewheeling jazz and chamber-like precision – Igor Stavinsky meets Ornette Coleman -- made for one of the more exhilarating and rewarding performances that I have attended this year. And there were plenty of surprises along the way.
They kicked off their exuberant set with “The Gathering Call,” a sing-songy “Dancing in Your Head” fanfare marked by a repeated motif with some subversive skronking from the strings and a rolling free jazz pulse underneath provided by Wilson. Lightcap is especially adept at this kind of Charlie Haden-esque bass playing, which is full of deconstructionist half-time phrasing against Wilson’s frantic pulse. Lederer blew with gale force on his tenor solo here while Knuffke contributed bright, original ideas with bristling energy and bold conviction. At one point in the whirlwind proceedings, the whole band dropped out as the inventive drummer launched into a dramatic solo, exhibiting masterful stick control and melodic ideas on the kit in the tradition of his drumming heroes Max Roach and Billy Higgins. (At one point he actually quoted from the melody to “Here Comes the Bride,” which elicited all-knowing grins from his wife Felicia).
“Raga,” an East Indian flavored number from Wilson’s 2003 album Humidity, opened with all the members of the quartet playing hand bells to create a gentle, meditative zone. As the zen-like piece progressed, they were joined on stage by the band’s former alto saxophonist Andrew D’Angelo, who began by playing his horn from his seat in the back of the room, then gradually made his way to the stage while continuing to blow on top of the insinuating drone, which was enhanced by Lightcap switching from upright to electric 8-string bass. D’Angelo had been MIA all through 2008 after two operations to remove a malignant brain tumor. Judging by the intensity of his cathartic blowing on this piece, the charismatic and iconoclastic saxophonist is in full recovery now. At the ecstatic peak of his solo, Wilson let out with whoops and shouts of encouragement from his kit. It was a triumphant moment, as purely spontaneous and audacious as the time I witnessed D’Angelo stage-dive with his sax at an IAJE convention during a rendition of Wilson’s edgy “Schoolboy Thug.”
“Lucky” (co-written by Lederer and his daughter Maya) was a beautiful chamber-like piece underscored by Wilson’s relaxed brushwork and featuring Lederer on clarinet. Picture the late, great Ed Thigpen embellishing an Aaron Copland piece. The gentle piece segued to a collective improv interlude with the strings offering spiky commentary. As the piece developed, Wilson stepped from behind his kit to recite the Carl Sandburg poem “Bubbles,” which he dedicated to D’Angelo:
Two bubbles found they had rainbows on their curves
And they flickered out saying, “You know, it was worth being a bubble just to hold that rainbow for 30 seconds.”
Another daring experiment that paid off with stunning results was a mash-up of Mozart’s “Dissonance Quartet” (played by the strings) and Ornette Coleman’s pensive ballad “What Reason Could I Give.” From there, they segued neatly into Ornette’s “Broken Shadows” featuring guest vocalist Mary LaRose. And they closed with Wilson’s quirky little love song, “Getting Friendly.” Each of the four sets that the expanded Matt Wilson ensemble played during their two-night engagement at Iridium was unique. I felt lucky to have caught this inspired second set on Thursday night.