Straight out of the hustle and bustle of New York City, drummer Matt Wilson and his stellar quartet lit up the first of two nights at the Rex with its stellar display of jazz that bordered around straight ahead swing, fleets of modernism, and explosive inside/outside fits of jazz freedom.
Even after emerging from a tragic experience involving the death of his beloved wife, Matt Wilson’s performance echoed joy and happiness, even evident through his energetic performances and his million-dollar smile.
The evening got to a soulful, swinging start with the quartet’s take on Gene Ammon’s “The One Before This”. Matt Wilson showed that he is a true force of rhythm behind the drums, employing a hearty Art Blakey-influenced backbeat that grooves hard and keeps the audience wanting more. The performance was even highlighted by a soaring sax solo by Jeff Lederer, even reaching into the upper high registers of his instrument and pouring his all into the performance.
On Butch Warren’s “Barack Obama”, things cooled off as the piece was a more introspective and reflective look at America’s first black president. After all is said and done, the quartet rips into free jazz with Dewey Redman’s “Bubbles”, employing effective stop and go dynamics and atonal bebop. First Jeff Lederer goes for the altissimo upper registers and fleets of fancy on the saxophone, cornetist Kirk Knuffke takes on the role of a mellowed and restrained Don Cherry, and bassist Dan Fortin takes on a very moving and probing bass solo employing echoes of Charlie Haden before the performance is brought together by Matt Wilson’s spoken word poetry.
Matt also happens to be an inventive composer through his two pieces of the set, “Crop Rotation” and “Arts and Crafts”. These pieces brought the elements of early Ornette Coleman into the forefront with its clever stop and go techniques, and its complex, opened up rhythms. The two other covers in the set, Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s “Blue Pepper (Far East of the Blues)” opened with a percussive display by Matt Wilson before breaking into Middle Eastern scalar blues funk. The ballad “Don’t Blame Me” was a very romantic and lush reading that brought the band together in unison and provided a sense of rest and relaxation for all of the intensity that insured throughout their performed set.
Matt Wilson’s Quartet brought the excitement, energy, action and high life of New York City into the city of Toronto in a big way to start its northern tour. It is a band that knows how to employ swing, freedom, and modernism in a way that is fun and accessible to the audience without the need of watering down the music. Be sure to catch this band or pick up their latest CD when you have a chance. It is worth a good listen.
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(From Left: Kirk Knuffke, Dan Fortin, Jeff Lederer and Matt Wilson)
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