The cult of youth has poisoned the world of music. Pop culture would have "instant artists shine momentarily, and then disappear quietly into the "where are they now category before they lose their baby teeth. In spite of this, seasoned musicians continue to move forward, breaking boundaries and defying the international fetishism of youth.
Michael Musillami is one such visionary musician. On Dachau, his veteran trio, augmented on several tracks to a quartet, quintet or sextet, fuses a warm traditional sound with highly modern playing into a seamless whole, stating unequivocally that the world of improvised music need not enslave itself to pop culture's obsession with disposable art(ists).
The realm of jazz guitar is fettered with a duality of possibilities: the classic tradition of Wes Montgomery and Jim Hall or the anything-goes realm of Bill Frisell. The jaunty melody of "Dresden" reveals the dichotomy that is Michael Musillami: a traditional jazz guitar sound coupled with a penchant for freely improvised lines, odd meters, and a conjuring of otherworldly soundscapes. This unlikely union creates a unique moment in jazz history: highly listenable free jazz guitar playing.
Throughout the record, Joe Fonda's warm bass tone anchors the movements of both Michael Musillami and drummer George Schuller. Like Scott LaFaro, he uses the entire register of the instrument for highly interactive and contrapuntal basslines. With music that exists on the fringes of jazz, maintaining group cohesion can be difficult. On the title track, "Dachau," Joe Fonda's playing serves to unite the frenetic drumming of George Schuller and the jaunty lines of Michael Musillami into a unified whole. Like Charlie Haden in Ornette Coleman's groups, Joe Fonda gives the music a completeness through strong melodic bass parts and intuitive interaction with the ensemble.
Veteran jazz drummer George Schuller is the MVP of Dachau. His clever and rambunctious playing keeps the record grooving continually, showing that freer music need not be devoid of feel. Moving seamlessly from the frenetic "Archives" to the melismatic "Dachau" with aplomb, Schuller is part of a rare breed of drummers who are capable of making the drums whisper, roar, groove or swing without sounding schizophrenic. Bringing to the table a dark cymbal texture and round drum tone that complement the ensemble perfectly, he is johnny-on-the-spot, catching everything everyone does and raising the musical bar continually.
Free improvisation can be a no man's land. The fainthearted need not apply. Over the years many carpetbagger musicians have seen fit to approach the daunting task of musical coherence in a freer setting without the ability to do so, effectively souring many ears to what can be highly imaginative and kinetic music. With Dachau, Michael Musillami demonstrates all that free music wants to live up to but often doesn't. Armed with a renegade ensemble of daring musicians with a classic jazz sound, Dachau is a work of surprising musical cohesion and inventiveness.
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Personnel: Michael Musillami: guitar; Joe Fonda: bass; George Schuller: drums, bells, shaker, toy hammer
whistle; Peter Madsen: piano; Tom Christensen: tenor sax; Dave Ballou: trumpet.