But here's the thing: Hofbauer has developed a hard-bopper's skill with hooky song forms. After he lays out the guitar-chord template on opener "These Two Things," drummer Miki Matsuki digs into a funky beat and the tenor saxophonist Kelly Roberge plays a bluesy line that could be off some updated vintage Blue Note disc, breaking into a unison passage with Hofbauer that accelerates into the next section. Wherever these guys roam, the thematic material is never far from sight, and there's always deliberation in what they do. "La Ligne de Chance" mixes up free-form dialogue among bass, guitar, and sax, but it always has a destination in mind. Sometimes the formal rigor of one of the guitar-bass-horn reveries recalls the Jimmy Giuffre Three. "Murder for a Jar of Red Rum" begins with atmospheric bowed bass against slow cymbals and then falls into one of the sweetest jazz-noir lines and grooves you'll ever hear. Of course, there's also a bit of a free aria for Sean Farias's bass against Roberge's sliding tones. But all is well — these guys are right where they want to be. If you're going to experiment, do it with authority. Maybe Antoine Batiste would like it and maybe he wouldn't. But somewhere, Charles Mingus is smiling.

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