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Matt Wilson Quartet, Smile (CD, 46:29); Palmetto 2049, 1999
Palmetto Records
71 Washington Pl. #1A
New York, NY 10011
Phone: 1800-PALM-CDS
Cyberhome: www.palmetto-records.com

        Drummer Matt Wilson has been active with tenor great Dewey
Redman for some time; Smile is the latest installment from his own 
inventive quartet. The very title, not to mention the close-up of 
Wilson's grinning mug on the cover, suggests that this group likes to 
have fun. Andrew D'Angelo is on alto sax and bass clarinet, Joel 
Frahm is on tenor and soprano, and Yosuke Inoue handles bass duties, 
both acoustic and electric.
	Wilson travels mainly in avant-garde circles, and that 
vocabulary is well represented on Smile. The two-horn lineup 
and the absence of a chordal instrument makes for a spare, 
harmonically open sound. "Wooden Eye," the opener, begins with 
chaotic rumbling and squawking tenor, but quickly settles into a 
slowly swinging, bluesy melody that's vaguely reminiscent of Mingus 
and early Ornette. The chaos returns, then the slow swing returns, 
then the chaos again, and so on, with Frahm weaving his tenor solo 
effortlessly through the stop-start structure.
	A number of non-original tunes make their appearance: Monk's 
"Boo Boo's Birthday," Coltrane's "Grand Central," the well-worn 
chestnut "Strangers in the Night," and the standard "I've Found a New 
Baby." Each vehicle makes perfect sense in terms of the vision and 
sound of the group. The Monk tune is played with a kind of calm 
finesse, the two horns harmonizing tightly on the melody and D'Angelo 
turning in a crisp, bopping alto solo. "Grand Central" is a solid 
uptempo romp; "Strangers" works well as a straight-faced, rubato bass 
clarinet feature; and "Baby" closes the disc in full camp mode, with 
a dixieland, tuba-style bass line stressing one and three and Wilson 
rat-a-tat-tatting away on the rims. It'll make you smile.
	The original compositions run the gamut, from the abstract, 
foggy-harbor atmosphere of "A Dusting of Snow" and the balladic 
sweetness of "Daymaker (for Audrey)" to the full-throttle avant 
assault of "Go Team Go!" Frahm peppers his improv with "Take Me Out 
to the Ballgame" as well as the "charge!" theme we all know from the 
baseball stadium; D'Angelo screams, whistles, and waxes Dolphy-esque 
on the alto. "Cinderblock Shelter" is a slow yet tense-sounding 
piece, with ominous, almost plodding hits by bass and drums on one 
and three and a horn melody weaving in and out. "Big Butt," written 
by D'Angelo, is a funk groove with an angular eighth-note melody 
played by bass clarinet and bass in unison, joined by alto sax on the 
second chorus. Toward the end, during a full rest, all the band 
members shout "Big Butt!" and the music quickly resumes. It'll make 
you smile.
	D'Angelo contributes another funny tune (maybe he's 
the real joker of the group) called "Making Babies": a dual-horn 
shout with a fast latin-tinged beat transitioning to a slow swing not 
unlike "Wooden Eye." The band's vocal capacities are then drafted 
into service again: this time, they all shout the numbers one through 
six, with each number separated by six unison hits. D'Angelo then 
solos furiously over a fast swing tempo and the numbers one through 
six return to wind things up. The piece ends with the group shouting 
"Six!" It'll make you smile. Buy it.
~David R. Adler

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