Drummer Matt Wilson leads a piano–less quartet with two horns, but if you’re expecting the second coming of Mulligan / Baker, you can shelve that notion. Wilson’s group is no lame throwback to the ’50s; on the contrary, it is almost obsessively up–to–date, using sophisticated harmonies, shifting time signatures, unconventional sounds and eccentric improvisations to press home its frequently absorbing but slightly off–center musical perspective. Wilson seems comfortable in any context, hammering the drums or caressing them as the occasion demands, and bassist Inoue matches him stride for stride. The horns, however, can’t find the proper groove until track 6, a hypnotic rendition of “Strangers in the Night” with Frahm on tenor and D’Angelo on bass clarinet, and don’t have much of interest to say either before or afterward (with the possible exception of Frahm’s scorching tenor solo on Coltrane’s “Grand Central”). Among Wilson’s original compositions (he wrote five of the eleven tunes), I found “Daymaker” and parts of “Cinderblock Shelter” (which has an almost klezmer–like theme) the most compelling; while the others contain flashes of inspiration, they veer too often into the realm of what I would describe as “avant–garbage.” (Sorry, modernists; it’s merely an opinion.) Aside from “Strangers,” the only song familiar to these ears was the standard “I’ve Found a New Baby,” and here the quartet is in superior form, giving the old chestnut a delightfully retro reading with Frahm on soprano, D’Angelo again on bass clarinet, and Wilson and Inoue comprising a truly dynamic duo. While not everything on the quartet’s menu suits my particular taste, others may find the provender much more to their liking. Wilson and his colleagues are an undeniably talented group, and there are moments when the session elicits the sort of smile envisioned in its title. But not enough of them.
Track listing: Wooden Eye; Boo Boo’s Birthday; A Dusting of Snow; Big Butt; Grand Central; Strangers in the Night; Making Babies; Daymaker (for Audrey); Go Team Go!; Cinderblock Shelter; I’ve Found a New Baby (46:23).