Matt Wilson is a beautifully melodic drummer, composer and, truth be told, vaudevillian and activist. With Andrew D’Angelo (alto sax, bass clarinet), Jeff Lederer (tenor and soprano sax, clarinet) and Chris Lightcap (bass), he presents a theatrically charming and challenging collection of nine originals and two covers. They’re all rooted in black American songbooks: spirituals to bebop to R&B to funk to hard bop. There’s free blowing on the title track, poignancy in “Getting Friendly” and funky uplift in War’s anthemic “Why Can’t We Be Friends?”. The beautifully recorded quartet just nails it all, as Wilson can be heard proclaiming at one point.
Funky from the get-go. The latest release from the excellent tenor saxophonist / bass clarinetist’s electric aggregation (Craig Taborn on Fender Rhodes, Adam Rogers on guitar and Nate Smith on drums) offers up an uneven collection—it ranges from churning in place (“Ultrahang”) to space exploration in the soaring anthem “Interstellar Signals” to tender beauty (“Facing East” and “Small Wonder,” which should be the title track). Taking nothing away from the left hand of Taborn, which supplies the grooving bass lines, this group needs a big-ass bassist who can set them free. Still, there’s lovely work from everyone, particularly Rogers, who plays with refreshing abandon and sensitivity.