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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, James Poore, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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Matt Wilson’s Big Happy Family –

Beginning of a Memory

Terell Stafford (trumpet); Kirk Knuffke (cornet); Jeff Lederer (tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, clarinet); Joel Frahm (tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone); Andrew D’Angelo (alto saxophone, bass clarinet); Gary Versace (piano, organ, accordion); Larry Goldings (piano); Martin Wind (acoustic bass); Paul Sikivie (acoustic bass); Yosuke Inoue (acoustic bass); Chris Lightcap (acoustic bass, electric bass); Matt Balitsaris (acoustic guitar, dobro); Matt Wilson (drums)

PALMETTO RECORDS [NO NUMBER] [63:02]

 

 

 

 

 

Score

Lester

Searchlight

Beginning of a Memory

Request Potato

How Ya Goin’?

Father of the Year

Getting Friendly

Andrew’s Ditty

Flowers for Felicia (Orchids-Wildwood Flower)

No Outerwear

Potato Radio

Go Team Go!/Endless Love

25 Years of Rootabagas

Feel the Sway

Schoolboy Thug

July Hymn

 

There’s a threnodic undertow to this release, which celebrates the life of Matt Wilson’s wife, violinist Felicia Lynn Wilson. But the spirit of optimism and life-enhancement that generates the music serves as both a reflection of her character and the nature of the legacy she leaves behind. The 17 tracks are full of great moments, from the wa-wa Lester Bowie evocations in the second track, which invokes gospel blues and a righteous New Orleans feel, through the vaguely Caravan-like Ellingtonianism and colour-conscious clarinet choir of Searchlight. The elysian salute, Beginning of a Memory, is graced by warm and poignant lyricism and full of rich sax and brass lines whilst Getting Friendly shows this loose-limbed ensemble at its finest – a searing sax solo but a lot of space in the ensemble courtesy of the rhythmic control of master drummer Wilson and his confreres in the engine room.

The funky parade-like vibe of Andrew’s Ditty is followed by some torrid Hard Bop, at a fast tempo, topped by a powerful drum solo from the leader whereas Flowers for Felicia is an appropriately affecting piece, lyrically rich with a warm piano contribution from the ever excellent Gary Versace. There’s something folklorically lamenting, with Matt Balitsaris’ use of the dobro adding an authentically pan-thematically American feel to the opus. This should suggest the breadth, both emotive and stylistic, of this delightful though necessarily sadly affecting album. In the nature of such things there’s a loping swinger, in the shape of No Outerwear and two bassists and dramatic whoops in Go Team Go! Endless Love, one of the most uplifting pieces in the set. 25 Years of Rootabagas is more decorous with Versace’s accordion working subtly and wittily behind Jeff Lederer’s clarinet. There’s a Heard it through the Grapevine groove going on in Feel the Sway (one does, one does) and there’s a joyfully funky Schoolboy Thug – nasty title, one supposes, but it sounds like the fellers are having an absolute ball.

This is a splendid salute, a spirited and sensitive salute to a much-loved wife.

Jonathan Woolf



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