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Michael Musillami: Beijing (2003)

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Michael Musillami: Beijing No stars How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

On the highflying Beijing, Michael Musillami sets up shop with a swinging team of sprightly improvisers in bassist Joe Fonda and drummer George Schuller. Musillami gets into an adventuresome mode on this set, and the others enlist for the fun-loving trip. They play mostly original compositions by Musillami or by band members collectively.

The music cooks in a stream of relaxed waves. Musillami’s delivery has lyrical leanings, but his improvising leaves convention behind to seek haven in more exotic realms. His output peaks with clear sound devoid of electronic fuzziness. Musillami sends out an unadulterated message that is very palatable while maintaining a challenging environment. He excels on the title cut with long, ringing choruses that dance in the air as flickering filaments of light.

Fonda and Schuller run with him on this very fast track. They open the set with a short percussive display of freeform interaction and then glide unerringly into their group role. Fonda gets into a consistently motivating groove with a solid, throbbing message; yet he also deviates off course with atypical contributions, particularly in the arco mode. Schuller similarly stirs the pot with a range of rhythmic cadence that maintains a degree of balance countered by off-balance, arrhythmic spurts to push the music in unpredictable directions.

For most of this charged session, it appears these musicians are having fun on this joy ride. They jab and poke at each other with playful teasing on “Pivot” and generally exude a sense of delight on most of the spirited tunes. The one exception is the haunting Thomas Chapin piece “The Present,” where the mood changes to pensive and the tempo to ballad pace. It offers the chance for Musillami to become an eloquent improviser with tender phraseology and softened interpretations.

Moodiness aside, the session sustains the perception of three artists cutting loose with invigorating songs that permit a large dose of self-expression to emerge from the tight group activity. It is a vehicle for improvisers to kick things into a higher gear with enthusiastic, interconnected playing. Musillami, Fonda, and Schuller do just that on this performance that dares you to remain still while the disc is spinning.

Track Listing: Jade Welcoming (1:35) / Beijing (8:40) / Dazu (1:25) / Swedish Fish (5:38) / Fragile Forms (5:02) / Op-Ed (7:20) / Mogao (:36) / Icons (3:43) / Pivot (4:10) / The Present (4:05) / Caterpillar (2:10).

Personnel: Michael Musillami-guitar; Joe Fonda-bass, kalimba; George Schuller-drums, bells, shaker, toy hammer, whistle. Recorded: December 18, 2002, Wilmington, VT.

Record Label: Playscape Recordings

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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