Matt Wilson: Spanning Time

By Dave Constantin // Photo By Joe Kenny Originally published in DRUM! Magazine’s October 2009 Issue

As it is with great musicians, it’s the notes Matt Wilson doesn’t play that often stand out the most. Not that he doesn’t like to lay it down too. “I don’t think I’ll ever tire of just slippin’ 4/4 time,” he says. But on That’s Gonna Leave A Mark, his eighth release as a leader in three cutting-edge jazz outfits — his quartet, Arts & Crafts, and Trio M — Wilson is more apt to measure time in whole notes. And in some places, like on “Getting Friendly,” the durations seem to be measured in miles.

Then again, “measure” probably isn’t the right word. “I don’t subdivide or anything,” Wilson says. “I just go by instinct. I don’t really sit there and count in between these beats. If I did that then I would be terrified. You just feel it. And when you surround yourself with players that are aware of all that, it’s nice.” This album is the first from Wilson’s 13-year-old quartet since 2003’s Humidity. But the enduring comfort level between these four musicians, the trust they have in each other, is on full display on this album — not least of all because of the high-wire approach they took to the recording.

That is, they all set up in the same room and played the entire album through, live, over the course of a single afternoon. “So I’m facing the horn players and Chris [Lightcap, bass] is right to my right,” Wilson explains. “And we used headphones I think maybe for the pieces that were a little bit louder. But I think that’s why something like ‘Come And Find The Quiet Center’ and ‘Getting Friendly,’ all those softer tunes like that have such a feel because all those sound molecules we’re experiencing in the same room. And that makes a difference in how you play.”

So does the room itself. And it didn’t hurt that they got to record in such a hallowed studio. Maggie’s Farm is a converted 18th century barn that sits out in the heart of rural Buck’s County, Pennsylvania, two hours from anything. So many great jazz recordings have been born there that it’s hard not to get inspired when you enter its vaulted, cathedral interior of blackened fieldstone walls and ancient hardwood beams spanning the ceiling. “There’s a serious vibe in the room,” Wilson says. “A new club doesn’t have that, you know, shellac on the walls from the cats yet.”

Coming into this recording, Wilson had already added his fair share of shellac to those walls. A good number of the roughly 200 recordings he’s done throughout his prolific career were at Maggie’s Farm. Most of those (and all his records as a leader, including this one) he’s done with producer Matt Balitsaris.

“I am proud to say that this is one of his best-sounding recordings,” Wilson says of Balitsaris. By now, the two men have worked out a near-perfect relationship, where Wilson, obsessive about preparation and performance, is happy to pass the buck on to Balitsaris when it comes to production. “I’m just not wired for technology and all that,” Wilson says. But on this album, there wasn’t much anyone had to do after the fact, save from keeping the technology from intruding on the music.

But for Wilson, old-school authenticity doesn’t mean retro recording techniques. In other words, don’t even get him started on the whole 2" tape vs. Pro Tools faux debate. Despite the 200-year-old barn and talk of shared sound molecules, this album went straight to hard drive. Why? Because it’s quicker that way. And when you want to bang a record out in six hours or less, which Wilson will always do if he can, messing with tape is a fool’s errand. “Sometimes I’ve been in sessions where they try to artificially create a vibe by [using] the technology,” he says. “It’s made it really difficult because the music suffers.”

Besides, you can’t ask for more warmth than you get on this album. And as for mistakes (good luck finding one), Wilson isn’t the least bit bothered. This is jazz — temporal, spontaneous, alive. “I mean, we record those songs that day. It’s not definitive versions. I mean, I’m very proud of it. I’m very happy. But I don’t go like, ‘Oh, this is going to be the take or this is going to be for the record,’ or whatever. When I stop worrying about that is when the records just seem to start to feel better.”

VITALS
BAND Matt Wilson Quartet
AGE 45
BIRTHPLACE Knoxville, Illinois
INFLUENCES Max Roach, Billy Higgins, Roy Haynes, Paul Moatian, Ed Blackwell, Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, Shelly Manne, Ed Thigpie, Peter Erskine, Jeff Hamilton, Steve Gadd, Jim Keltner, Clyde Stubblefield
CURRENT RELEASE That’s Gonna Leave A Mark
WEB SITE mattwilsonjazz.com

GEAR
DRUMS Craviotto
CYMBALS Zildjian
STICKS Zildjian
HEADS Remo

STOKEN ON
HARDWARE DW
18" Zildjian BreakBeat Ride