The Blindfold Test with Matt Wilson


Matt Wilson

(Photo: John Abbott)

Matt Wilson’s 14th album, Hug!, issued in mid-2020 on Palmetto, upholds the 57-year-old drummer’s reputation as a master navigator of a broad spectrum of improvisational and compositional strategies, animated with unfailing warmth, humor and virtuosic execution. This was Wilson’s second Blindfold Test. He awarded 5 stars to each selection.

Ulysses Owens Jr. Big Band
“Two Bass Hit” (Soul Conversations, Outside in Music, 2021) Owens, drums; Walter Cano, Benny Benack III, Summer Camargo, Giveton Gelin, trumpets; Alexa Tarantino, Erena Terakubo, Diego Rivera, Daniel Dickinson, Andrew Gutauskas, saxophones; Michael Dease, Eric Miller, Gina Benalcazar, Wyatt Forhan, trombones; Takeshi Ohbayashi, piano; Yasushi Nakamura, bass.
Swinging! I noticed the cross-sticking on the 2 and 4. Great time feel. Great cymbal melody, great forward motion on the ride. I dig the glide. It’s interesting to hear “Two Bass Hit” with a Basie-ish/Ellingtonian vibe. It’s a New York band — a sort of ushered energy that feels it can erupt at any given time, which it does. The shifts within the flow are great. The improvising was amazing, and the writing beautifully welcomed each of those sections. I love the drummer’s interpretation of Philly Joe Jones’ seminal solo — the call-and-response with the open and closed hi-hat; the development of the idea with the bass drum; playing the blues; singing on the cymbals. It reminds me of Sam Woodyard and Louie Bellson.

Rudy Royston
“Roadside Flowers” (Flatbed Buggy, Greenleaf Music, 2018) Royston, drums; John Ellis, tenor saxophone; Gary Versace, accordion; Hank Roberts, cello; Joe Martin, bass.
Gorgeous. I love the depths and weights of the sound. I like the weave of the velocity differences — something slow-moving, something fast-moving with it. It’s Rudy Royston with Gary Versace and John Ellis. Rudy and I are of the same ilk in our desire to immerse ourselves in different things and surround ourselves with different personalities — all great spirits.

Gonzalo Rubalcaba
“Silver Hollow” (Skyline, 5Pasion, 2021) Rubalcaba, piano; Ron Carter, bass; Jack DeJohnette, drums.
The intro invites the listener to “come on in,” use your imagination, be what Dewey Redman called “the ear of the behearer.” It’s Jack DeJohnette’s “Silver Hollow,” a song I’ve always loved. I love the pianist’s sound and presence. I’m trying to identify the drummer by honing in on the ride-cymbal melody, which is very clear; it shows a willingness to be part of the fabric of the total sound — as Ornette Coleman would say, “interacting without interrupting.” Everyone is hugging the song with empathy. Very egoless. You can tell the performance is in the moment. There’s a concept, arranged just enough to give them an area to go to. 5-plus stars.

Will Vinson/Gilad Hekselman/Antonio Sánchez
“Northbound” (Trio Grande, Whirlwind, 2019) Sánchez, drums; Vinson, soprano and tenor saxophone; Hekselman, guitar.
It’s great to hear the freedom: three people being independent but also moving together within a frame. Beautiful saxophone sound. The drummer is fantastic. The muffled floor tom makes me think of Antonio Sánchez. The music is making me move, pulling me into different places. Such a cool dance. I like these little cells within it of tension and release, but there’s also a big-picture tension and release at times.

Cindy Blackman
“Circles” (Code Red, Muse, 1992) Blackman, drums; Wallace Roney, trumpet; Steve Coleman, alto saxophone; Kenny Barron, piano; Lonnie Plaxico, bass.
Right out of the chute! Somebody likes Tony Williams. Is this Ralph Peterson? [drum solo] Ferocious. Cindy Blackman? She’s so great! Spirit with a capital “IT”! I love her rock playing, too.

Vinnie Colaiuta/Bill Cunliffe/John Patitucci
“We See” (Trio, Le Coq, 2021) Colaiuta, drums; Cunliffe, piano; Patitucci, bass.
Monk’s “We See.” The bass sound is so woody, so big. I love the drummer’s commitment to the groove, that they stayed with the second-line feel. It’s a composed way of approaching the song, and the musicians brought it to life. My favorite part was the modulation at the bridge.

Dafnis Prieto Big Band
“Two For One” (Back To The Sunset, Dafnison, 2017) Prieto, drums; Peter Apfelbaum, tenor saxophone solo; Chris Cheek, baritone saxophone solo; Nathan Eklund, trumpet solo; Michael Thomas, alto saxophone solo; Manuel Valera, piano solo.
Dafnis’ big band. He’s an amazing artist. He’s taken great ingredients and made a great soup. It’s not math. It’s so beautiful, the eruptions and then the flow of it all. Astonishingly great! You hear how he hears all his rhythms as big melodies.

Dan Weiss
“Elvin” (Sixteen: Drummers Suite, Pi, 2016) Weiss, drums; Thomas Morgan, bass; Jacob Sacks, piano; Matt Mitchell, keyboards; Stephen Cellucci, percussion; Katie Andrews, harp; Anna Webber, flutes; David Binney, Miguel Zenon, alto saxophone; Ohad Talmor, tenor saxophone; Jacob Garchik, trombone, tuba; Ben Gerstein, trombone; Judith Berkson, Lana Is, Jen Shyu, vocals.
Another great sonic landscape. The drummer is surrounded by these different things, but still has the ride cymbal. Every time I’d settle into hearing something, something new was added — the bass trombone coming in, the harp, then the handclaps (I love where the claps sat). It’s like great Thai food where you taste the whole, but if you concentrate you can discern each flavor and how they create one. Initially I thought this would lean toward a dry drum-bass groove, but then it opened up, like a bunch of flowers blossoming.

Gerry Gibbs Thrasher Dream Trio
“4 AM” (Songs For My Father, Whaling City, 2021) Gibbs, drums; Geoffrey Keezer, piano; Christian McBride, bass.
Beautiful solo on brushes. The drummer has the snares on (I play brushes with the snares off), which dries up the drum quite a bit. The bassist is fantastic playing the melody, and I love the sections where bass and piano dialogue. You can hear that the drummer and pianist love playing with each other. The pianist is making Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” changes sound alive and real. 5 stars for the artistry of hearing people put their personalities on something familiar. DB

The “Blindfold Test” is a listening test that challenges the featured artist to discuss and identify the music and musicians who performed on selected recordings. The artist is then asked to rate each tune using a 5-star system. No information is given to the artist prior to the test.

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