Gathering Call is much closer in spirit to the work of Matt Wilson’s other longstanding ensemble, the playful Arts & Crafts, than to his previous two Quartet discs, Humidity (2003) and That’s Gonna Leave a Mark! (2009). Part of that is due to the swapping out of saxophonist Andrew D’Angelo for cornetist Kirk Knuffke, which eliminates the honk and squawk of tandem reeds on the frontline. Part of it is due to the addition of special guest pianist John Medeski, which ups the groove quotient and lessens the group’s stylistic similarity to Ornette Coleman’s pianoless bands. But mostly one gets the impression that Wilson simply wanted this to be a loose-limbed, informal affair. The entire disc was completed in a single seven-hour day, and only six of the 13 tracks are group originals—all from Wilson. While it lands with less impact than the other Quartet recordings, only a curmudgeon would deny its winsome charms and versatility.
Part of the fun is figuring out where Wilson went prospecting for material. Hugh Lawson wrote “Get Over, Get Off and Get On” for Yusef Lateef in the late ’60s, and it is a wonderful vehicle for Medeski (who blends into the band more than your typical guest star), a slice of hip soul-jazz carved out at the intersection of Les McCann and Ramsey Lewis. Ellington is represented by the impeccable jive of “Main Stem” from the early ’40s Blanton-Webster band and the more obscure “You Dirty Dog,” which has tenor saxophonist Jeff Lederer blowing in the large, biting mode of Coleman Hawkins, who played on the original. The only misstep is a rendition of the Beyoncé hit “If I Were a Boy,” which feels a little gimmicky, like the Bad Plus without the kitsch.
The best of Wilson’s originals include “Dancing Waters,” which does have the hypnotic movement of a heavy slosh, and the Ornettish “How Ya Going?,” complete with a foreboding rustle in the rhythm section and enigmatic unison horn lines that mate and separate.