Matt Wilson's Gathering Call

Drummer-composer Matt Wilson's new album, Gathering Call (on the Palmetto label), is a lot of fun, as several reviews have noted, but don't hold that against him. This is, as the late Lester Bowie called one of his own later albums, "serious fun."

Wilson is one of the most brilliant and versatile drummers out there. At a jazz festival several years ago, I saw him play as a sideman with four completely different bands on the same night—straight-ahead bop, screaming avant-garde, borderline classical chamber, and...honestly, I forget what the 4th band was like, but the point is, he delved deep into each type of music as if that were all he'd been doing for decades and he'd emerged as a master of the art.

His work as a leader spreads all over the map as well, but the bandmates he's recruited aren't always up to the full task and the outcomes, while boisterous and refreshing, are uneven.

Gathering Call, while no less wide-ranging, is completely surefooted, his best album as a leader since 2001's Arts and Crafts, maybe better.

It features his regular quartet plus pianist John Medeski (of Medeski, Martin & Wood), who flings a serrated edge at the proceedings without dominating them. It's a fine-honed touch; I hope they all play together often.

The album begins with a groove-laced cover of Ellington's "Main Stem," then flips back and forth between Wilson's own tunes (ranging from a rousingly jagged "Some Assembly Required" to a hauntingly lyrical "Dancing Water"), another Ellington (the obscure "You Dirty Dog"), Butch Warren's "Barack Obama" (insouciant cool with a bittersweet tinge), a Charlie Rouse, Beyonce's "If I Were a Boy," capped with the folk song "Juanita."

Talk about eclectic. But it swings, it sways, it all holds together, it croons from the same voice. And like many jazz albums I've heard in this 4th decade of the compact disc, it sounds good: not the sort of thing to show off your stereo, but it lets you into the music; there's no distractions, you feel not quite like it's there but it's close enough for pleasure.

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