Don't recall if I recounted this before here (I have elsewhere), but the first so-called "loft jazz" event I attended, in May of 1976 at La Mama, though advertised as a Roscoe Mitchell/Malachi Favors duo, turned out to be a Mitchell/Oliver Lake/Phillip Wilson performance, and a memorable one. Mitchell came in first and played about 20 minutes of solo alto. Lake then ambled into the space, took out his curved soprano and joined in for another 15-20 minutes. Then Wilson appeared, set up his drum kit and accompanied the two for another, who knows, half-hour. I had the impression that Mitchell had no idea who, if anyone, would be joining him when he began.
I met Phillip later that year after I'd moved down to NYC and begun working at Environ. He tended to hang out there a good bit and was one of the warmest, most enjoyable people I encountered on the scene. I'd loved his underpinning of Hemphill's band on "The Hard Blues" from "Coon Bid'ness", as well as his work on the recently issued album of Mitchell's, "Old/Quartet". I used to mentally divide musicians into "dry" or "wet" and Wilson was the most liquid of drummers. I think it was a few years later that I realized I'd heard him earlier than I knew at the time: he was drumming with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band when they played Woodstock. In fact, it's a Wilson piece(co-authored with Gene Dinwiddie), "Love March" iirc, that's included on the original recording of the event.
I have a very fond memory of Phillip--I forget the group context but it was at Environ--in the midst of a rather furious solo at a climactic moment, bringing back his right arm to smash at the ride cymbal and stopping about an inch away for just a second or two, then continuing on elsewhere. I don't doubt that it wasn't the first time a drummer had exercised this gambit but it was my first exposure to same. The effect was magical: there was no sound but the sound you expected to hear was nonetheless experienced, if only in your head.
It was fairly obvious that Phillip had substance issues of various kinds. After Environ closed, I saw him around at shows once in a while, generally not looking so well. Still, it was a great shock to learn of the particulars of his violent death in 1992. Very sad. How dispiriting that I'm unable to find even a single photo of him on-line.
Deadline's "Down by Law" (Celluloid, 1985) seems to have been more or less a Wilson project, or as much as such a thing is possible with Laswell in tow. It's essentially an Afro-Beat manqué recording, "updating" the sound with the then-ubiquitous DMX machines, an effect that screams "1985" like no other. Less manqué than it might have been given the presence on three of the six cuts of Manu Dibango. Odd and Laswellian assortment of others including Bernie Worell, Steve Turre, Olu Dara (wielding his great wooden trumpet! Whatever happened to that? Where, for that matter, are all the reed trumpets? Who else aside from Eddie Harris and Rahsaan played them? You'd think they'd be around among all the young eai trumpeters....), Paul Butterfield hisself on harmonica on a track and Jaco on the same cut (I'm pretty sure his only appearance in my collection).
It's dated but kinda fun, The tracks plod a bit--necessarily given the electronic percussion--but they're catchy and funky, none more so than "Makossa Rock", with an insidiously gripping theme and some fine, fine Dara. Laswell produced a tone of things more or less along this line in the 80s; this might be one of the more effective, although in a light manner, the kind of thing you'd be pleasantly surprised to hear at some public function but, upon reflection, wouldn't be so out of place.
Just a bit hard to listen to, thinking about Mr. Wilson and what might have been.