While there are a number of red-letter moments on drummer Matt Wilson's latest album, Hug!, and others that are rather less so, the earnestness is high throughout as everyone in Wilson's seasoned quartet does his best to ensure its success. That success, however, rests in part on the music itself, and therein lies the down side.
As noted, there are definite highsAbdullah Ibrahim's lively "Jabulani," Dewey Redman's sunny "Joie de Vivre," Roger Miller's charming "King of the Road," Wilson's melodious "Hambe Kahle" all please the ear. On the other hand, the quartet misses the mark on Wilson's clamorous "Sunny and Share," which sprints nowhere in particular before crashing to a sudden stop, and although Wilson's parody of Donald Trump's nonsensical "Space Force" is admirable, the march that accompanies it ("Interplanetary Music," complete with group vocal) is tedious. Other numbers fall somewhere in between: Gene Ammons' "The One Before This," Charlie Haden's "In the Moment," and Wilson's "Hug!," "Man Bun" and "Every Day with You."
The title selection adds (unnamed) strings to the core group (Wilson, saxophonist Jeff Lederer, cornetist Kirk Knuffke, bassist Chris Lightcap) to underscore its likable melody. Lederer moves to clarinet on "King of the Road," whose tempo and ambience are perfect, as is Lightcap's sturdy bass work. Likewise, Knuffke's cornet and Lederer's soprano sax are a perfect match on "Hambe Kahle" (which means "goodbye" in an unspecified language; Hawaiian, perhaps?). Ammons' "The One Before This," which opens the session, is a garden-variety bopper with admirable solos by all hands, Haden's "In the Moment" a bristling flag-waver that tests everyone's chops. Knuffke, Lederer and Lightcap design engaging solos on "Joie de Vivre." A few more numbers like that wouldn't have been amiss.
On any Wilson-led album, a high level of musicianship is a given. While Hug! is no exception to that rule, the music doesn't always measure up to that standard. But when it does, there are more than a few gratifying moments of charm and pleasure.
The One Before This; Jabulani; In The Moment; Every Day with You; Space Force March/Interplanetary Music;
Joie De Vivre; Sunny and Share; Hug! King Of The Road; Man Bun; Hambe Kahle.
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