By Bill Meyer | Published September 2020
Between the plague and politics, 2020 seems like a good year, if you tote a pitchfork and walk on cloven hoofs. The rest of us could use some lifting up, and no one’s better suited to that job than Matt Wilson.
The drummer knows what it takes to trek past the darkness toward the light, and he’s walked the walk. In 2015, he memorialized his late wife with a warmhearted recording by his large ensemble, Big Happy Family. Who better to offer us all a hug right now? The material on Hug!—its title now serving as an unrealistic promise—is split between Wilson’s originals and tunes selected to show off his ensemble’s strengths, bouncing from one bright spot to the next. “The One Before This,” a Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons tune, shows just how jaunty a hard-bop blues can be. But Wilson can’t entirely ignore the world’s bad news. His “Space Force March” marshals grating tones to express reservations about 45’s priorities, then segues into a jubilant run through Sun Ra’s “Interplanetary Music.” Some tunes can edge toward cuteness, but one wonders if the mercifully brief mugging of “Man Bun” will be in the band’s book by the time clubs open up again.
Hug!: The One Before This; Jabaloni; In The Moment; Every Day With You; Space Force March/Interplanetary Music; Joie De Vivre; Sunny & Share; Hug!; King Of The Road; Man Bun; Hamba Kahle (Goodbye). (45:47)
Personnel: Matt Wilson, drums, xylophone, vocals; Jeff Lederer, tenor saxophone, alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, clarinet, piccolo, vocals; Kirk Knuffke, cornet, soprano cornet, vocals; Chris Lightcap, bass, electric bass, eight-string space bass, vocals; Matt Combs (8), strings.