A few years ago at the Newport Jazz Festival, drummer, composer, and bandleader Matt Wilson introduced his tune “Bubbles” by setting up a toy bubble machine downstage. But the toy wasn’t cooperating. As the band vamped behind him, Wilson spread his arms wide toward the audience and said, sotto voce, “Imagine bubbles!”
It was a signature Wilson moment: introducing a playfully toy-like tune with a toy prop. Even the prop’s malfunction somehow fit the whole Wilson ethos. That moment was part of a musically ambitious set that included tunes in which Wilson’s quartet was augmented by a string quartet (with his wife, Felicia, on violin). It was serious, often challenging music, presented with a sense of humor, and Wilson and his group held the audience in the palm of their hands.