Matt Wilson: Good Trouble – Right from the first notes, you know you’re in expert hands

Latest album by criminally underappreciated New York-based drummer (59) will put a smile on your face

Good Trouble
    
Artist: Matt Wilson
Genre: Jazz
Label: Palmetto

Matt Wilson is one of the great – if at times criminally underappreciated – drummers in modern jazz. The ebullient 59-year-old New York-based percussionist and composer has had a prolific and protean career: he has appeared on more than 400 albums as a much in-demand sideman alone.

As a leader and co-leader, his 25 releases range in style from postbop to chamber, Latin, folk and free jazz, and in subject from family, community and Christmas cheer to an exploration of the poetry of Carl Sandburg. They are clever, playful, humorous and surprising. Yet somehow Wilson remains curiously below the radar, especially this side of the water – a respected bandleader who deserves wider recognition and attention.

In a perfect world, Good Trouble would change all that. A phrase seen most recently on Mick Wallace’s eye-catching election posters, the words have their origins in the rousing oratory of the late American civil rights activist John Lewis. The album both honours and echoes Lewis’s legacy; its mission is to create music that is inclusive, inspirational, maybe even provocative, to play jazz that might just “open doors for people”.

Good Trouble brilliantly answers this unexpected question: what would a sunny and swinging classic 1960s Blue Note session, meeting the joyous, celebratory and politically engaged music of Charles Mingus and Max Roach, sound like if played by a new quintet of very fine, forward-thinking musicians having some serious fun along the way?


A 10-track collection featuring Jeff Lederer on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Tia Fuller on alto saxophone, Dawn Clement on piano and vocals, and Ben Allison on bass, the album is characteristically loose-limbed and alive; the material extends from Wilson’s upbeat originals to sparkling tunes written by the unlikely bedfellows Ornette Coleman and John Denver.

Right from the first notes of the opening track, Fireplace, you know you are in expert hands: this is music full of energy and élan that will put a smile on your face, a nod in your head and a tap in your foot. “Guys, that was smokin’,” Wilson cries at the end of RBG, a composition that pays homage to the late US supreme court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. He ain’t wrong.

Philip Watson

Philip Watson

Philip Watson is a freelance journalist and author. He writes about jazz for The Irish Times