After hearing the opening funky downbeat of the first track, you might think that Dead Cat Bounce had forsaken the freewheeling complexity of 1998ís Lucky by Association for the almighty groove. But the intervening years find saxist Matt Steckler and company forging ahead on their well-chosen path: a four-sax front line with bass and drums conjuring the hocketing interplay of the World Saxophone Quartet with Mingus-like polyphony and rhythmic change-ups. Even that opening "Groovesiwhatsie?" soon splits the unison horns into two contrapuntal twining melodies. "Dead Cat Catillion" begins with tentative, percussive squeaks, whistles, and blats, finds another funky beat, breaks for an Ellingtonian reed rhapsody, devolves into free play, builds to another lovely theme, and eventually gives way to a "free" Jason Hunter tenor solo over African percussion thatís as eloquent and contained as Joe Lovano running Gunther Schuller. "Adzes on the Atolls" suggests the flutes and broken phrasing of Henry Threadgill and the pinwheel exuberance of Raymond Scott. Stecklerís horn crew also includes Felipe Salles and around-town go-to guy Charlie Kohlhase, and heís got Garrett Sayers on bass and Bill Carbone on drums. The only misstep is a little surreal spoken-word-with music number that comes off like a Denis Johnson reject from Jesusí Son.
(Dead Cat Bounce play the Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center, 41 Second Street, this Friday, May 17, at 8 p.m. Call 617-577-1400.)