Friday, September 4, 2020

'Hug,' the Matt Wilson Quartet advises — throw caution to the winds

Working closely together for many years, drummer Matt Wilson's quartet has earned the right to
Matt Wilson shows personal style in how he dresses and how he plays.
thumb its nose in these socially distanced times with "Hug" (Palmetto). In the midst of pandemic constraints, you can wrap your arms around this one, though it rewards sitting-up-straight attention as well.

This is a companionable set of originals and well-curated borrowings from the jazz repertoire, including Charlie Haden's "In the Moment" and Dewey Redman's "Joie de Vivre."  There's also a trip into a comfortable pop hit of yore, Roger Miller's "King of the Road."

And there's a bit of satire in the choice of Sun Ra's "Interplanetary Music" grafted onto some Donald Trump riffing titled "Space Force March." It all sounds natural, not reaching out for the lovably eccentric. And it makes for a good musical riposte to one of the President's vanity projects.

The players, always sensitively supported from the percussion section, are Jeff Lederer, reeds; Kirk Knuffke, cornet, and Chris Lightcap, bass. The program opens with the deep groove of Gene Ammons' "The One Before This," in the course of which the ensemble's penchant for compact solos is displayed. What follows takes the upbeat mood in another direction: Abdullah Ibrahim's "Jabulani" is notable not only for its catchy theme, but also for the bandleader's spot-on interaction with the bass player. The airy nonchalance of Afropop is nicely approximated here.

Later on the disc it's evident that the band is not focused exclusively on party music. "Every Day With You" is a Wilson original — slow, reflective, but never sagging. Fresh arrangements of timbres and textures come naturally to this quartet: "King of the Road" gets down-home from the start in Lederer's clarinet, with Knuffke's cornet coming in a little later with an overlaid solo line. Wilson puts down the sticks to hand-drum in a duo with the bassist, once again displaying the pair's mutual rapport.

There's a little additional humor when clarinet and cornet are in counterpoint in the original "Man Bun," a jaunty number that salutes that fading male hairstyle, with the band capping the piece by shouting together: "Check that man bun out!"

The punning title "Sunny and Share" suits a quartet excursion into territory first explored by Ornette Coleman at the start of his career some 60 years ago. There's a perpetual avant-garde out there that is always ready for a new examination, and the Matt Wilson Quartet offers it here magnanimously.

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