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Matt Wilson's Big Happy Family Recalls 'Beginning of a Memory' on Palmetto Records [REVIEW]

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Jun 18, 2016 01:23 PM EDT | Mike Greenblatt (

Matt Wilson

Drummer Matt Wilson leads his Big Happy Family on 'Beginning of a Memory' (Palmetto Records) (Photo : John Abbott)

Combining all three of his longstanding bands (one of which can be seen in the clip below), drummer/composer/bandleader Matt Wilson has returned to the studio in full force with a Love Army of family and friends to pay tribute to violinist Felicia Wilson who performed on Matt's 2003 Humidity, became his wife and succumbed to leukemia in 2014. The result is a swinging session with moments of tender, bittersweet asides and studio banter. The star here is trumpeter Terell Stafford but the focus is cumulative ...a joyous swingfest of epidemic proportions.

Produced by label founder Matt Balitsaris, the 17 short tracks have no written arrangements which could be risky business, as it assumes an inherent trust in the performers who are at their most vulnerable in a situation like this. Stafford, destined for superstardom, shines throughout but that's no surprise. Bassists Chris Lightcap/Josuke Inoue, keyboardist/accordionist Gary Versace and pianist Larry Goldings all added their parts later during post-production on songs Felicia loved: even the totally schlocky Lionel Richie/Diana Ross 1981 duet "Endless Love."

Then there's "Flowers For Felicia" which takes a previous Wilson composition ("Orchids") and fuses it together with The Carter Family's 1928 folk classic "Wildwood Flower." "Schoolboy Thug" is a wild romp while "Lester" contains vestiges of the Young man Billie Holiday called "Prez."

What with trumpet, cornet, tenor sax (2), soprano sax (2), alto sax, clarinet, bass clarinet, piano (2), organ, accordion, acoustic bass (4), electric bass, acoustic guitar, dobro and drums, there's enough color to fill anyone's palette.

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