New York drummer Matt Wilson has spent a good deal of time in Chicago since the 80s, either with the postmodernist Either/Orchestra, behind former Ornette Coleman sideman Dewey Redman (a hero of his), or at the helm of the Matt Wilson Quartet, a quasi-outre pianoless band that emphasizes wailing sax work and whose songs seem designed to provoke a dadaist’s admiration. Next to those projects, his current band looks utterly retro. As heard on last year’s Palmetto release Arts and Crafts, it’s a traditional quartet (piano, bass, drums, and trumpet) playing what sounds like straight-ahead jazz–but with Wilson, first impressions can and often do mislead. Compulsively clever and often ironic, he long ago lost the capacity to play things completely straight. Even when a tune calls for an unalloyed swing on a basic beat, Wilson can’t help but embroider it, and this constant, focused creativity–which might express itself in unexpected hi-hat chatter, wicked asymmetrical accents, or a drum solo that employs as much space as sound–keeps dust from settling on the band. The material itself offers surprises too. Wilson mixes his sly originals, such as a drawling blues dedicated to Lester Bowie, with songs from Coleman, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and Bud Powell. Furthermore, he proves himself an enthusiastic historian by finding relatively obscure (and all the more welcome) examples of their work: even if you listen to a lot of jazz, chances are you never get to hear Coleman’s “Old Gospel” or Kirk’s “Stompin’ Grounds.” Wilson’s combination of respect and sass finds a complement in the approach of the Arts and Crafts band’s gifted keyboardist, Larry Goldings, best known for his organ work (in his own trio and with John Scofield, Carla Bley, and even India Arie); here he sticks to piano, using inventive counterpoint and splayed harmonies on sparkling, masterfully controlled solos. Unflappable bassist Dennis Irwin completes the rhythm section, and bright-toned, classically trained trumpeter Terell Stafford fronts the band, his traditionalist’s bravado making him the respectable foil for Wilson’s iconoclasm. Friday, February 15, 9 PM, and Saturday, February 16, 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.