Matt Wilson Quartet to Deliver a Gathering Call With Pianist John Medeski

Jan 22, 2014

The Matt Wilson Quartet. From left: Kirk Knuffke, Jeff Lederer, Matt Wilson, and Chris Lightcap.
Credit Tom Foley

Drummer/composer Matt Wilson, a great wit, percussive prestidigitator and populist swinger in all known jazz genres, celebrates his new, diverse and delightful album, Gathering Call, on Tuesday, January 28. Wilson performs with his tightly-knit quartet and special guest, pianist John Medeski, at 8:00 pm at The Side Door jazz club in Old Lyme.

Wilson can fit in perfectly with anything from a partying New Orleans street band to a cerebral Anthony Braxton orchestra.

Gathering Call is a smart, swinging celebration that embraces everything from folk and funk to free jazz and Ellingtonian grooves. The album will be officially released just one week before Wilson’s celebratory Side Door gig. So Old Lyme concert-goers will be catching the latest mercurial thoughts from the protean artist, a most melodic and musical drummer/dreamer, who juggles the bold with the beautiful, the seriously artful with the outrageously joyful, making everything look so easy and sound so superb.

Wilson’s working quartet features his never workaday collaborators Kirk Knuffke, an invaluable new addition on cornet; Jeff Lederer, a triple-threat player on clarinet, tenor and soprano saxophones; and the invaluable Chris Lightcap, bass. Plus, in a happy partnership on both the new disc and on a promotional tour, Wilson’s special guest is his longtime pal, the noted pianist John Medeski of Medeski, Martin & Wood fame.

Fueled with thoughtful, vibrant energy, Gathering Call opens with a royal, playful, groove-oriented rendition of Duke Ellington’s “Main Stem,” and winds down its 13 tracks with a shimmering performance of the traditional song, “Juanita.” Medeski’s luminous harmonic romanticism transforms "Juanita" into a serenely lyrical folk song, resonating with pristine sweetness and light that make it sound like the world’s most beautiful, enchanted music box.

“Main Stem,” in this disc spiked with variety, packs a super happy vibe into its under-three-minute run, with Medeski laying down some appropriately ducal flourishes on the keyboard. Wilson, who can fit in perfectly with anything from a partying New Orleans street band to a cerebral Anthony Braxton orchestra, sounds like he also would have been an ideal drummer for a classic Ellington Orchestra, a musician Duke would have loved madly and called a musician beyond category.

“Dancing Waters,” one of six Wilson originals, is a lovely piece, a wedding of mournful and spiritual matters, graced with Lightcap’s sonorous bass solo. Next up, the quintet immerses itself in a  soulful mood with Hugh Lawson’s “Get Over, Get Off and Get On,” with a big, fat backbeat and Medeski’s right hand trills and bluesy thrills make  it taste like a fresh-cut slice of “Watermelon Man.” Lederer buzzes with funky ferocity, even unleashing ecstatic, upper register squeals of delight on his tenor. Knuffke’s cornet dances over the big beat, and the funkadelic fun goes on.

Butch Warren’s “Barack Obama,” in contrast to all that unbridled passion, is a mellow musical homage, a mini-presidential suite amply furnished with the sort of idyllic harmony and consonant collaboration seldom experienced in today’s dissonant world of politics. Wilson’s composition “Gathering Call,” the CD’s title track, is a rallying cry for  the troops to muster, even if just briefly, around the banner of the avant-garde.

Shifting gears, the quintet next re-gathers to play a rarely heard Ellington piece called “You Dirty Dog,” once again retaining an essentially Ellington flavor,  but with a crisp modern sensibility all its own. A kerfuffle-free Knuffke glides smoothly on cornet, sounding as fluent as Clark Terry soloing in Duke’s brass section. And Lederer, with nods to the new, swaggers in the grand manner of such tenor titans as Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins, complemented by Medeski who, once again, adds some apt Ellington keyboard flourishes.

Wilson’s “Hope (For the Cause)” and “Dreamscape” accentuate the CD’s upbeat vibe, as does his Ornette Coleman-inspired “How Ya Going?,” a festive, foot-stomping dance piece featuring the tout ensemble tooting away, with everybody wailing and chattering contrapuntally and madly as the mood and intensity soar.

Among the Wilsonian grab-bag of surprises are the shifting changes of moods and colors surging through the band’s interpretation of the Beyonce hit, “If I Were a Boy.” Ringing with melodic simplicity and an almost mournful mood, the piece wraps up its mini-narrative with Lederer’s dramatic tenor solo morphing seamlessly into Knuffke’s cornet musings, which, in turn, fade out in the final bars into the sound of silence.

Once again shifting grooves, the band glides into Charlie Rouse’s rousing “Pumpkin’s Delight,” with Lederer’s clarion call on tenor heralding the charge of this never lite brigade. His tenor is totally libido liberated, pure id un-lidded, a steamy, five-star solo. Then the brakes go on as Medeski immediately cools things down 100 degrees before heating them up all over again with his own increasingly searing solo.

And all along, Wilson, a master of nuance and a fount of crackling ideas, plays beautifully, sometimes entering totally into the fray with cymbals sizzling, creating a shower of colors and rhythms, always sounding as agile, graceful and witty as a classic Fred Astaire tip-top, tap tour de force. As stylist and rhythm-maker, Wilson lives in that magical Astaire comfort zone of gravity-defying freedom, irrepressible invention and perfection. And he doesn’t even need a Ginger Rogers.

The Matt Wilson Quartet, with special guest, pianist John Medeski, performs at 8:00 pm Tuesday, January 28, at The Side Door Jazz Club, 85 Lyme Street in Old Lyme. Doors open at 7:00 pm. Tickets: $35. Information: thesidedoorjazz.com and (860) 434-0886.

Wine, Jazz & Song in action.
Credit Diane Foley

Wine, Jazz & Song

Fluent trio jazz, silken choral music and fine wine flow in  a venerable venue from 6:00 to 9:00 pm on Saturday, January 25, at the 12th annual  fundraiser for CONCORA, Connecticut’s premier professional choir, at Porter Memorial Hall, First Church of Christ, 75 Main Street in Farmington.

Set in a handsome hall built in 1901, the Wine, Jazz & Song festivities feature the Sir William Trio and several singers from CONCORA, the acronym for Connecticut Choral Artists, whose mission for 40 years has been to perform and perpetuate choral music of the highest quality to the broadest audience.

Led by bassist Bill Stillinger, aka Sir William, the trio also features the first-rate pianist James Argiro, a Springfield stalwart well-known to Connecticut jazz fans; and drummer Gregory Caputo, who toured with the Harry James and Benny Goodman big bands. Casting aside their classical scores for the evening, CONCORA singers Michael Bogatay, Salli-Jo Borden, Kenneth Downes and Stacey Grimaldi dig into jazz standards and songs from The Great American Songbook.

“It’s both terrifying and exhilarating,” admitted CONCORA’s Grimaldi, a classical soprano. “The Sir William Trio is amazing and really inspiring,” she said. “I always have an absolute blast with these guys.”

Served along with the main course of jazz and vocals will be tapas and canapés made by CONCORA’s Friends of Bach. There will be a silent wine auction and tastings of Spanish wines selected by sommelier Raymond Petke. Bottles of 2007 Spanish wines from Petke’s personal wine cellar will be offered for sale during the silent auction.

All funds raised will benefit CONCORA’s annual collaboration with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, which features Bach’s epic, choral masterpiece, Mass in B minor on March 30 at Immanuel Congregational Church, Hartford. Tickets for the fundraiser: $60.00, available at (860) 293-0567 and concora.org.

Person to Person Pairing 

It what might at first glance seem like an odd couple, vocalist Marilyn Maye, a cabaret diva and powerhouse showbiz personality, collaborates with the big-toned, incurably romantic jazz tenor saxophonist Houston Person at 8:00 pm on Wednesday, January 22, at the Palace Theater, Stamford Center for the Arts, 61 Atlantic Street in Stamford.

But because Maye and Person are bonded by a mutual passion for beautiful ballads and classy show tunes and, most especially, by their deep, well-honed interpretive skills, they might well be perfectly cast in the Palace’s Broadway/Cabaret/Jazz series called Perfect Pairs at the Palace.

Will Friedwald, the encyclopedic scholar/critic of pop singers, has written that Maye “has the rhythm and musicianship of a great jazz singer,” and “the projection and personality of a heavyweight Broadway diva.” Similarly, Person is much in the classic, heavyweight mold of the soulfully robust operatic tenor player, a Caruso of the jazz aria, who’s also a most empathetic partner with singers. His accompanist’s ears are as sensitive as his soloist’s heart is expressive. Tickets: $65.00, $50.00. Information: stamfordcenterforthearts.org and box office: (203) 325-4466.

Roy Campbell.
Credit Glenn Siegel

Trumpeter’s Death Shocks and Saddens

While Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares is shocked and deeply saddened by the sudden death of the noted cutting-edge trumpeter/flutist Roy Campbell Jr., its duo concert that was to have paired Campbell with the celebrated bassist/composer William Parker will still go forward with multi-reed player Daniel Carter stepping into the breach at 7:00 pm on Saturday, January 25, at the Wistariahurst Museum in Holyoke, Massachusetts.

Campbell died suddenly on January 9 at 61. Cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum, a friend and colleague, posted a memorial blog for The New Yorker magazine, which he entitled, “Postscript: Roy Campbell Jr.” With much warm, personal feeling, Bynum wrote a vivid mini-portrait of the artist, including this Ralph Ellison-like verbal snapshot of the trumpeter in action:

“Campbell always looked relaxed, with a Bronx-bred saunter to his step and often a leather baseball cap pulled low over his eyes, but he always played hard, whether for a European concert hall or a New York subway platform. He would swing the horn onto his face with a wide-elbowed sweep, playing ragged lines broken by fast trills and flutters, jumping across the registers with a punchy attack. His music could be lyrical, but it was never clean; the grit of realness was always mixed in.”

The concert, which by fate now serves as a loving, symbolic memorial for the late trumpeter, continues the second season for Jazz Shares, a grassroots, all-volunteer group of jazz lovers dedicated to financing and presenting high-quality jazz concerts in western Massachusetts. The duo performance is presented in a stately, historic house museum in Holyoke at 238 Cabot Street. Advance tickets: $15.00. For information on the concert and the goals of Jazz Shares, and how this jazz alliance finances its concerts, go to jazzshares.com.

Bossa Nova Diva Digs Diversity

Gabriela Anders.
Credit Gabriela Anders

Gabriela Anders, an Argentine-born singer/songwriter who sensuously embraces jazz, soul and Latin music, is the headliner at 8:00 pm on Friday, January 24, in the jazz series at the Warner Theatre, 68 Main Street in Torrington.

Anders, who made a big splash in 1998 with her debut album Wanting (Warner Bros. Jazz), grew up immersed in all kinds of music as the daughter of the noted Argentine jazz saxophonist/bandleader Jorge Anders and the granddaughter of a classical violinist and a piano teacher. South American and North American musical influences, classical and pop, were a major, nurturing part of growing up for Anders who was born in Buenos Aires in 1972. Among the sounds she especially loved were classical Brazilian guitar music, the concertina-like bandoneon, an instrument essential to many tango ensembles, and, of course, the jazz her father adored and played. Among schoolmates, Gabriela was the only one who had heard of and was crazy about Miles Davis.

After graduating from high school, she moved to New York City to study music and begin pursuing her career. In Argentina, she had studied classical guitar privately and music and piano at a conservatory in Buenos Aires. Her diversified musical studies, including later instruction in orchestration for brass and strings with the noted arranger Don Sebesky, provided a solid foundation for her songwriting, arranging and vocal style that brings soul to bear on everything from her first love, classic bossa nova, to myriad songs and styles ranging from Rolling Stones classics to ballads associated with Billie Holiday. Her latest CD, Bossa Beleza, (JVC/Japan) is a marriage of her sultry style and her first and everlasting love, bossa nova. Billboard magazine has praised her as a multi-talented, eclectic artist whose music has “a touch of tango romanticism and a taste of samba cool.”

Anders performs in the Warner’s Nancy Marine Studio Theatre. Tickets: $27.00, $32.00. Information: warnertheatre.org and (860) 489-7180.

Downtown Bargain Days    

Here are two upcoming admission-free jazz events offered in downtown Hartford on back-to-back days.

Trombonist Allie Bosso performs at 3:00 pm on Sunday, January 26, in the free Baby Grand Jazz series at the Hartford Public Library, 500 Main Street. A freelancer who has shared the stage with such noted rationalists as Slide Hampton and Gary Bartz and toured frequently with 10,000 Maniacs, Bosso has performed at such prestigious venues as the White House, Lincoln Center and Kennedy Center. As a performance major at Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio, she studied trombone with trombone virtuoso Robin Eubanks, and improvisation with the progressive pianist Connie Crothers, an acknowledged master of the art of improvisation, and onetime piano protégé of the iconic pianist/composer Lennie Tristano. Information: (860) 695-6295.

Trumpeter Haneef Nelson and friends preside over a birthday bash for the brass eminence himself at 8:00 pm on Monday, January 27, at the Jazz Mondays series at Black-eyed Sally’s, 350 Asylum Street in Hartford. Haneef’s hip, happy birthday helpers include pianist Taber Gable and bassist Matt Dwonszyk, among others. The popular weekly series, which shifts into an open jam session after the first set, is presented by Charter Oak Cultural Center and the Hartford Jazz Society. Information: charteroakcenter.org and Black-eyed Sally’s at (860) 278-7427.

Please submit press releases on upcoming jazz events at least two weeks before the publication date toomac28@gmail.com. Comments and suggestions left below are also most welcome.