About a month or so ago, jazz night at the Old Town bar was packed. As a trio played an Ornette Coleman tune, my attention was drawn to the bassist who was driving the music, feeling the groove but constantly shifting his lines to keep the saxophone soloist out of his comfort zone. It reminded me of the great Motown bassist James Jamerson’s claim that he had learned to play music as a youngster by stretching a rubber band on a stick on an anthill, making the ants dance.

The bassist who made the ants dance that evening was Will McEvoy, who had recently moved to Ann Arbor from Brooklyn. Originally from Charleston, South Carolina–where Jamerson was raised–he grew up in Maryland and developed his musical tastes and skills attending Sarah Lawrence College and studying with the great bassist Drew Gress. In New York, he threw himself into a wide variety of creative music scenes, seeking out people who shared his broad interests in poetry, art, and all kinds of music, from classical to avant jazz improvisations and Middle Eastern musical modes.

McEvoy is by nature a modernist, but he has an interest in the classic composers of the more radical jazz movements such as Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman, and Don Cherry, and he has learned their tunes and deeply studied their improvisatory and compositional concepts. He is not a music school graduate, so he developed his own Curriculum Quartet as his way of dealing with such classics, but most of his bands have been dedicated to his own compositions, which he often revisits and reworks for new contexts.

One quintet, Mutasm, includes his close friend and collaborator, saxophonist Patrick Breiner. Their music, as heard on their CD Labor of Labor, provides an excellent example of the expansive, often raucous, sometimes playful or outrageous, but always deeply passionate contexts for improvisation that McEvoy creates. His compositions are often succinct, relying on unpredictable repetitive rhythmic patterns but shifting tonal textures; solos are often accompanied by ensemble riffs and separated by composed passages. It is apparent that he composes with both specific instrumentation and the personal styles of his musicians in mind. His long friendship with Breiner is manifest in the recordings of their duo, Premoticon, in which free improvisations are so well crafted that they seem composed.

In a new environment, McEvoy has had to seek out new collaborators. The result is his Third Coast Quartet, which will make its Ann Arbor debut on August 19 at the Kerrytown Concert House, with Tim Haldeman on tenor saxophone, Marcus Elliot on soprano saxophone, and Jon Taylor on drums.