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Will Bernard is one of those gifted cats who makes pleasantly surprising pop-ups in all sorts of jazzy jam bands (or jammy jazz bands), here with Robert Walter’s 20th Congress, there with the Stanton Moore Trio and T.J. Kirk, everywhere with John Medeski, including the Medeski, Martin and Wood keyboardist’s Mad Skillet band. And he’s refreshingly omnipresent around New Orleans during Jazz Fest week. Pond Life, his latest album as a leader, offers truth in titling: It’s a swampy, funky mix of swirling sound fueled by stellar collaborations with regular musical co-conspirator and fellow California native Ches Smith on drums, bassist Chris Lightcap, alto sax subversive Tim Berne and Medeski on piano and organ.The MMW ethos — groove-driven passages juxtaposed with open, experimental sections — certainly figures into Bernard’s music. But he swims in other currents, too, charting his own course through varied sonic textures. “Pond Life,” his third composition to bear the same name, is an alto-focused, suite-like piece: It opens with long, limber sax/guitar unison lines alternating with Smith’s urgent trap-kit responses; quickly shifts into a floaty free section, with Berne and Bernard spinning out melodic fragments as the rhythm section slow-crawls beneath; then slips into a funk groove before exploring free terrain and circling back to the head. The syncopated “Four Is More” nods to Miles and incorporates a snatch of Monk’s “Straight, No Chaser,” while the album-opening “Poor Man’s Speedball” benefits from Medeski’s overdriven organ splashdowns and extended solo, followed by the leader’s own rangy exploration. Lightcap’s resonant double bass motors the blues-edged “Surds” and “Moving Target,” both of which feature the core Bernard-Smith-Lightcap trio, while effects-edged textures figure heavily into “MoTooz” and the loping, flickering “Lake of Greater Remnants,” which offers well-deployed solo space for Lightcap. It’s all quirky, but decidedly inviting. - Philip Booth