Newport notes

By JON GARELICK  |  August 16, 2010

Perhaps the most gratifying set came Sunday morning from drummer Matt Wilson, who had augmented his band with a string quartet. There are no current plans to record the set-up, he told me later, but he had tried it at Iridium in New York and wanted to do something special at Newport as well. When I walked into the Quad tent, they were in the middle of "Raga" — which sounded more like a helter-skelter Balkan folk dance than anything by Ravi Shankar, with tenor-saxophonist (and arranger) Jeff Lederer squawking in precise beats. Then they played Beyoncé's "If I Were a Boy," cornet player Kirk Knuffke caressing the melody. Wilson's "Arts & Crafts" shifted into a sharp backbeat and then out, with long, held string notes underneath Knuffke's beboppish solo and a rising churning African 6/8 from Wilson's drums. (Wilson is one of the few drummers who can play the melody on his kit without sounding cheesy.) During Wilson's "Bubbles" (from the Carl Sandburg poem), a toy bubble maker refused to cooperate, and Wilson, gesturing broadly, said sotto voce as the band played, "Imagine bubbles!" As a palate cleanser, the strings played the opening of Mozart's "Dissonance" Quartet, and then vocalist Mary LaRose came on to sing her own lyrics to Ornette Coleman's "Broken Shadows." Through it all, Wilson had a tendency to grin broadly. When skill is matched by generosity of spirit, lingering doubts pop like bubbles.

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