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Gathering Call-- Matt Wilson Quartet + John Medeski

The infinitely flexible and open-minded drummer Matt Wilson is best known among many projects for his groups Arts & Crafts and the Matt Wilson Quartet. Heard here is the transformed Quartet, with cornetist Kirk Knuffke replacing alto saxophonist-clarinetist Andrew D'Angelo and joining regular members Jeff Lederer on tenor, soprano, and clarinet, and Chris Lightcap on bass. Perhaps it's the significant contribution that trumpeter Terell Stafford has made to Arts & Crafts in recent years that convinced Wilson to add a brass player to the Quartet as well. Altering the band's sound even more on this session is guest artist John Medeski, the inventive pianist long admired by Wilson since their days together in Boston's Either/Orchestra. The program is what one might expect from Wilson, his diverse originals intermingling with pieces by Ellington, Hugh Lawson, Butch Warren, and Charlie Rouse, plus a tune that Beyoncé turned into a hit.

Wilson participated in the recording of Ellington's "Main Stem" for Ken Peplowski's recent Maybe September CD, which might have inspired this concise 2:43, 78 rpm worthy rendition, replete with Lederer's tenor clearly and brashly evoking Paul Gonsalves. Knuffke's cornet work is more personalized, as is Medeski's piano. Wilson spurs things along in the moment and the era, and the final unison break is neatly conceived and consummated. The perky riffing theme of Wilson's "Some Assembly Required" allows ample space for the drummer's nimble interjections. Lederer cooks in a determined post bop mode, while Medeski breaks up the tempo unpredictably in his thoughtfully rambling improv. Knuffke's solo delivers captivating extended lines, heartily intoned. Wilson's support behind these more than capable soloists is an added aural delight, as is the unexpected tongue-in-cheek sign off post reprise. For the leader's "Dancing Waters," soothing tones from Lederer and Knuffke, and Lightcap's heartfelt bass statement, precede the horns fleshing out of the ethereal, floating theme as Medeski's trickling piano manipulations seem to reference the tune's title. Alas, no solos, but still a selection that would have fit in very well harmonically and conceptually with those on Herbie Hancock's Maiden Voyage album.

The funkified outing on pianist Hugh Lawson's "Get Over, Get Off and Get On" has Lederer making like Eddie Harris with Knuffke in earthy accord. Medeski struts out in Professor Longhair fashion as Wilson keeps a snappy second line rhythm base. Knuffke's wailing solo beckons Lederer's intense largely post bop exploration, making effective use of dissonant overtones. Bassist Butch Warren's "Barack Obama," is a gratifying tribute, tranquil and hopeful in nature, as Lightcap's bass weaves magic with Lederer's lissome clarinet, a reflective Knuffke, and Medeski's splashes of color. The title track, "Gathering Call," is a surprisingly brief showcase for Wilson's emphatic drums, amidst horn motifs and a free form eruption. The obscure Ellington opus "You Dirty Dog" can be heard on the Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins album, and here receives a respectfully Dukish interpretation. Knuffke's warmly expressive solo is succeeded by Lederer's muscular, testifying tenor and Medeski's knowing salute to the composer's piano style that also shows how much Duke influenced Thelonious Monk. "Hope (for the Cause)" has a succinct melody remindful of Monk's "Evidence" to a certain extent. Wilson's artfully subtle drum interlude sets up the harmonized musings of Knuffke and Lederer's clarinet, soon united with Medeski's sparse phrasings and soft-spoken chords. This expertly arranged Wilson composition has an endearing light as air quality.

Wilson's "How Ya Going?" finds Knuffke and Lederer's soprano voicing the theme à la Don Cherry and Ornette Coleman, with Lightcap relentlessly walking in the manner of Charlie Haden. The horns then intertwine in an expansive and illuminating way before a deft summation. This version of Beyoncé's hit "If I Were a Boy" places Knuffke in the lead thematic role, with Lederer's tenor offering both pertinent fills and unison hookups. Lederer's short solo bursts forth with energy and passion, only to give way to Knuffke's understated reprise. A tantalizing bass line and a funky soul jazz theme help make Charlie Rouse's "Pumpkin's Delight" an irresistible track, inspiring engaging solos from Knuffke (think Lee Morgan), Lederer (how about Joe Henderson?), Medeski, Lightcap, and finally texturally conversational and precise Wilson. The longing melody of the traditional 19th century "Spanish" style song "Juanita" is gently unfurled by Medeski, with just an attuned Wilson contributing enhancing embellishments in a charming interpretation devoid of any solos.

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Scott Albin