Matt Wilson Quartet
Clever and exuberant drummer Matt Wilson has made an effortless transition from quirky sideman–with Dewey Redman, the Either/Orchestra, and Manhattan Transfer cofounder Janis Siegel–to distinctive bandleader: he brings a world of humor to the bandstand, and each of his albums reaches out to other genres, even spoken word, which collide like tectonic plates in eruptions of ironic juxtaposition. His quartet, in particular frontline reedists Andrew D’Angelo and Joel Frahm, is more than game for his purposeful silliness–his new album, Smile (Palmetto), includes “Go Team Go!,” with a parade of sports-rally cliches that carries into Frahm’s tenor solo, and “Big Butt,” in which the whole band shouts out the name of the song 20 seconds before it ends. Wilson’s dadaist leanings have a noble lineage in jazz–or a long one, in any case–that includes the lighthearted asides of Fats Waller, the saturnalian shenanigans of Sun Ra, and the Merry Prankster-esque meanderings of Don Ellis’s 60s big band. But for some folks the goofiness wears thin quickly: if you’ve seen this quartet once, the jokes may feel forced and intrusive the second time around, especially since the band’s musical strengths usually make clowning gratuitous. “Big Butt” doesn’t need a “big butt!” to give it sass, because its steeplechase funk melody provides plenty; Smile’s bouncy take on the Thelonious Monk tune “Boo Boo’s Birthday” honors the composer’s substantial sense of irony without any special effects. Bassist Yosuke Inoue holds the center steady, and Wilson’s loose-limbed, light-fingered precision allows him to steer the band without clutter or excess–he really is among the most delightfully focused drummers in modern jazz, able to communicate just about anything he chooses. This versatility makes it hard to predict which direction he’ll go in for his solo performance at the Jazz Record Mart between the quartet’s two dates: left to his own devices, he might concentrate on pure rhythm, but he could also turn into Spike Jones before our very eyes. Jeff Lederer will fill in for Frahm at the quartet gigs. Friday, 9 PM, and Saturday, 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552. Also Saturday, 1 PM, Jazz Record Mart, 444 N. Wabash; 312-222-1467.