Factionalism has been terrible for the jazz world, which has been plagued with many divisive, ugly debates over the merits of bebop vs. Dixieland, hard bop vs. cool, hard bop vs. fusion, etc.; as one jazz promoter put it, jazz is a small enough market as it is without splitting it up into a bunch of warring factions. But gratefully, jazz has also had its share of flexible, broad-minded individuals, and Matt Wilson's flexibility continues to serve him well on The Scenic Route. As a drummer/composer, Wilson has made it clear that he is comfortable with both inside and outside playing; The Scenic Route is much more inside than outside, although two of the songs that Wilson tackles with pleasing results are Ornette Coleman's "Rejoicing" and Donald Ayler's "Our Prayer" (which is successfully combined with the Beatles' "Give Peace a Chance"). But The Scenic Route, despite some occasional detours into the avant-garde, usually favors a hard bop/post-bop approach; that is the approach that prevails on "We See" (one of Thelonious Monk's lesser-known pearls) as well as Wilson originals that include the pensive "25 Years of Rootabagas," the infectious "Feel the Sway" (which favors a dusky, nocturnal groove along the lines of the theme from The Odd Couple), and the playful title track (a boogaloo). Another highlight of this 56-minute CD is Wilson's thoughtful arrangement of Pat Metheny's "The Bat," which ends up becoming more post-bop than fusion. The drummer oversees a solid team of players on The Scenic Route, including trumpeter/flügelhornist Terell Stafford, pianist/organist Gary Versace, bassist Dennis Irwin, and even a female vocal trio dubbed the Swayettes (who aren't used extensively but provide background vocals on occasion). Despite the Swayettes' presence, The Scenic Route is an instrumental album first and foremost -- and it is also a consistently appealing illustration of the open-mindedness that Wilson brings to the table.
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson