In music, and especially contemporary improvised music, the role of the drummer has greatly expanded beyond the traditional role of keeper of time. Witness the current crop of albums that have recently been released by drummers who have taken on the role of leader and oftentimes composer, albums that demonstrate just how diverse and exciting the art of contemporary drumming has become.
Matt Wilson is a case in point. Wilson is a celebrated drummer whose resume speaks for itself. Wilson made his bones with saxophonist Dewey Redman and in Charlie Haden's Liberation Orchestra. Along the way he has lent his sideman talent as the first call drummer for piano trios led by luminaries like Denny Zeitlin, Bill Mays and Paul Bley. In the various iterations of his own groups, usually quartets, Wilson has consistently shown the ability to create a steady stream of creative music that spans the gamut from hard-bop to the avant-garde, with his music always retaining an inherent sense of joy, a Wilson trademark.
On Wilson's latest, Gathering Call, the prolific drummer has enlisted the cornetist Kirk Knuffke, the reed player Jeff Lederer, bassist Chris Lightcap and guest pianist John Medseki. The music can be traditional big band with a contemporary twist as in the opener Duke Ellington's "Main Stem" where Knuffke can sound like Lee Morgan and Lederer takes on a sound like Gene Ammons big boss tenor to great effect.
The music can be playfully raucous, like on Wilson's three compositions "Some Assembly Required," "Gathering Call" or "How Ya Going?." Wilson is a practitioner of the art of rhythmic chicanery where he uses various sounds and stick techniques to create a cacophony of clicks, bangs and splashes all brilliantly timed and masterfully in tune to the music. The iconic saxophonist Lee Konitz, who has played with Wilson, was quoted saying "I don't think I've ever heard him play an unmusical hit on the drums and cymbals." All the while Wilson deftly interjects just the right amount of humor into his music.
The music can embrace old style swing, like on Duke Ellington's rarely played "You Dirty Dog" where Knuffke plays with polished style in contrast to Lederer's salty tenor solo. Or as on Charlie Rouse's wonderfully evocative "Pumkin Delight," the music is evocative of the Blue Note hard bop heydays.
The music can also be beautiful, like on Wilson's shimmering "Dancing Waters," where bassist Lightcap is featured on some impressionistic playing, or on Butch Warren's hopeful "Barack Obama," where John Medeski's piano layers a cascading shower of notes and Lederer's warm clarinet tones mesh synchronously with Knuffke's moving cornet.
The music can be delicate and uplifting, like on Wilson's "Hope (For the Cause)" which features some subtle piano work by Medeski, showing the sensitive side to this player, often associated with his hard driving organ-led trio Medski, Martin and Wood.
The music can be heartfelt and contemporary like on the beautifully rendered version of the Beyonce tune "If I Were a Boy," a highlight of the album. The album ends with a piece of Americana, the quietly rendered duet between Wilson and Medeski on the traditional song "Juanita." The song transports you to an age of simplicity and honesty that has its own special appeal. With so much diversity in music all expertly played, Gathering Call is another addition to Mr. Wilson's growing joyful and creative repertoire that should be listened to and relished.