The thing about Matt Wilson isn’t that he leads a band from behind a drum kit…shoot, man, that’s been done at least since Chick Webb in the 1930s. Rather, it’s that he is able to bring out the fun in all of his players. He steadfastly refuses to buy into the idea that jazz is some museum piece to be carefully handled and meticulously replicated the way it was sixty years ago.
Wilson does perform the kind of jazz of fifty-sixty years ago, mind you, but his ploy is to make it sound young again by playing it that way. He’s puckish, but never to the point of it being parody, and the infectious attitude rubs off on his band. If you want to hear bassist Chris Lightcap party, listen to him in Wilson’s band. If you want to catch Lederer feelin’ randy, hear what he does when Matt is in charge.
Those two are long-time members of the Matt Wilson Quartet, and that embraceable spirit has quickly infected its newest member Kirk Knuffke, a force on cornet. Wilson’s slightly rejiggered band debuts next week for a successor to 2009’s That’s Gonna Leave A Mark and 2012’s widely acclaimed Attitude For Gratitude (with his Arts & Crafts band), entitled Gathering Call.
For this album, the Quartet is a Quintet with the temporary addition of an old Either/Orchestra colleague of Wilson’s: acid jazz keyboard pioneer John Medeski. (WARNING FOR MMW FANS: Gathering Call contains no acid jazz.) Medeski has popped up in a variety of settings across the entire spectrum of jazz and if there’s one constant is his ability to completely understand and adjust to the situation.
The pianist picks and chooses his spots carefully; he wisely lets Lederer and Knuffke do the talking on Duke Ellington’s finger-snapping good “Main Stem,” and applies a lithe touch to Butch Warren’s lyrical ballad “Barack Obama.” Medeski steps out under the shadows for “Get Over, Get Off And Get On,” a funky, “Watermelon Man” kind of soul jazz goodness. This is where he excels, pouring on the grease. Following Knuffke’s steady cornet, Lederer gets righteously agitated on his tenor solo.
Wilson goes Ellington again with Duke’s “You Dirty Dog,” a more obscure Duke, but the big band swing he installs with a perfect, walking assist from Lightcap, leaves one wondering why this tune isn’t covered more. Going in the other direction for a source of covers, Beyoncé’s “If I Were A Boy” becomes a spotlight for the new member Knuffke, who uses his cornet as the voice that carries out the sentiment of the song as Wilson subtly steers the moods shifts from behind.
When Wilson wants to get rowdy as he does on “Gathering Call,” the rest of the band goes his way for some brief, rambunctious fun. “How Ya Going?” steps outside, too, but in a harmolodic way; Knuffke and Lederer on soprano sax play the melody in different time dimensions, while Wilson stays committed to the swing.
Some of the best individual performances of the disc can be found on Charlie Rouse’s “Pumpkin’s Delight.” Everyone gets in good solos and Wilson’s dynamic Afro-Cuban pulse changes and takes on distinct beats for each solo performance.
Crisp but freewheeling, swinging but unfettered, Wilson has it both ways — as he always does with his Quartet — on Gathering Call. John Medeski’s piano doesn’t change the script a single iota, but it does thickens the plot a little bit.
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Gathering Call will be available through all major retail outlets January 21 via Palmetto Records.