Drummer Matt Wilson is one of those rare jazz musicians who isn't caught up in the endless war of words between defenders of tradition and "forget the past, make it new" experimenters. As he's proven on his four recordings for the Palmetto label, Wilson embraces everything -- from lyrical renditions of Welsh folk songs and Gershwin tunes to classic hard bop, free-flowing "outside" explorations and hilarious numbers such as "Go Team Go," a rowdy send-up of marching-band music.
It's an eclectic approach that's won considerable acclaim. Wilson's 1996 debut recording, As Wave Follows Wave, made the New York Times best-of list, and in 1999 Down Beat named Wilson one of 25 rising jazz musicians under the age of 40. Not bad for a guy who grew up in the small town of Knoxville, Ill., and claims he was inspired to become a drummer after seeing Buddy Rich on an episode of Here's Lucy.
Although Wilson has strong ties to St. Louis (his brother lives here), he's never performed in town as a leader. But on Thursday, Wilson will be leading his band, Arts and Crafts, at Jazz at the Bistro as a late addition to the schedule. It's an opportunity Wilson has anticipated, and he's excited.
"We're doing a 10-day tour of the Midwest," says Wilson, "and we're opening up in St. Louis. I think the first gig of a tour is always great. I don't like to do too much preconceived stuff. I'd rather just start into it, get out of the way and let the guys play."
"The guys" include trumpet/flügelhorn player Terell Stafford, pianist Larry Goldings and bassist Dennis Irwin -- an all-star lineup. Stafford spent five years with Bobby Watson's Horizon before starting his own career as a leader. He's also been a regular on recent MaxJazz releases, appearing on Bruce Barth's East & West and Laverne Butler's A Foolish Thing to Do. Goldings is best known as a world-class organ player. He's worked with Maceo Parker and John Scofield, in addition to recording a string of solid releases as a leader. Irwin's credits include recordings with everyone from Art Blakey and Mose Allison to Joe Lovano and Scofield.
"I put this band together as an alternative to my regular quartet," says Wilson, "because I wanted to work in a more straight-ahead repertoire. I built the band around Dennis and chose Larry because I think he's one of the great pianists of this generation -- even though he's better known for his organ playing. And Terell is a monster on horn. It's just really exciting to play with musicians like these."
Wilson is too modest to mention his contributions, but if you catch him at the Bistro you'll discover that he's one of the most inventive and dynamic drummers you'll ever hear. But don't procrastinate. Unlike most four-night Jazz at the Bistro engagements, this is a one-nighter, and it promises to be memorable.