The rescheduled date and the cold limited the crowd's size by the second set, but the energy remained hot on stage, exceeding all expectations with feats of amazement and laughter. Closing out a four-night stay to celebrate the release of "Gathering Call," this extended foursome dished out another memorable night for their most loyal enthusiasts.
The group opened with a silent count, apparently starting from nothing at all with two fierce hits from the whole crew, then largely withdrew to an immediate drum-focused introduction. Wilson established a fast pace, heavily favoring the snare as the rest of the band came with more hits in a style that resembled premeditated chaos building until the main tune took over and the night could begin. Saxophonist Jeff Lederer astonished the crowd with his solo on this opening song, the title track from "Gathering Call," taking a straight forward approach but escalating his intensity until the peak. He extended beyond the traditional range of his dull and weathered tenor into cleanly executed riffs of squeaks, controlled entirely by embouchure without any fingering.
The set continued as wildly as the opening number, working largely from the material on the album but including a few others that stood out as highlights. Perhaps the most amusing surprise was a song called "Choose," inspired by the poem by Charles Sandburg. With a rolling snare to go with a general march rhythm, the entire stage stood and chanted the lyrics in a style fitting of a Saturday morning, cartoon super-hero theme. They dedicated the song to our own Westward Expansion Museum, mimicking the blocky movements of the nearly ancient automatons as they played. The song finished with an extended drum solo from the band leader, remaining ever humorous as he shouted "choose!" at semi-regular intervals, before changing the words up with some rhymes by the end.
Reaching into the world of pop, they also included a cover of Beyonce's "If I Were a Boy," easily the least chaotic selection of the night. It featured Kirk Knuffke on the lead, who favored the cornet over the trumpet for this album, and proved to be his time to shine. Covering the lead and tasteful, melodic solo, Knuffke's horn was very microphone shy, gracefully adjusting his tone and intensity by directing the sound downward and away from the mic. Continuing to have fun with the piece, they ended by breaking down to just the cornet and bass with the rest of the musicians and audience snapping the beat for the conclusion.
It was unusual to see John Medeski in a passive role, as he's typically found at the helm of the highly regarded fusion trio, Medeski, Martin and Wood, but it didn't limit his ability to impress. Without ego, he largely retreated from the spotlight, but used his solos and improvisations to shine as well as any of his bandmates. The pianist demonstrated everything you could look for from the bench, adopting furious speeds that left his fingers as a blur to the naked eye, mixing in two handed chords struck perfectly in time and a little bit of ingenuity, not only reaching inside the piano to strum the strings, but even bending and muting strings with one hand while the other played on the outside. While he was not in any way the leader on stage, Medeski's veteran approach was obvious to all who attended.
Chris Lightcap managed to hide in the back row on the contrabass. He served a functional role without any miscue or struggle, but was largely unapparent behind the horns up front and was mainly out of the spotlight musically. He did have one moment to shine during the final song where he had a lengthy solo where he played smoothly and at one point, his left hand seemed to move up and down the neck so quickly that it was difficult to see where he even paused to finger the string for his well chosen, dynamic riffs.
With three young talents sandwiched on stage between two veterans, this expanded quartet treated the modest crowd to a set of largely new music that was more than worth coming out for on a Monday to celebrate this new album. The Matt Wilson Quartet with John Medeski simply overflowed with talent on this cold, January night.
Set list (composer):
Gathering Call (Matt Wilson)
Hope (For the Cause) (Matt Wilson)
If I Were a Boy (Toby Gad, Brittany Jean Carlson)
Pumpkin's Delight (Charlie Rouse)
Get Over, Get Off and Get On (Hugh Lawson)
Photos by Wil Wander.