If there are inherent risks in tinkering with the tried and trusted then this release is a refutation of the idea. Guitarist Michael Musillami's trio, with bassist Joe Fonda and drummer George Schuller, is some seven years old and thus a thing of great musical closeness, but in this case a doubling in the size of the band results only in musical pleasures. That result is aided in no small part by the distinctiveness of Musillami's compositions, which are brought to life by a band with a deep knowledge of his methodology and what it takes to make an impression. They unselfconsciously avoid every cliché in the book, and repeated listening is passed with aplomb.
"Splayed Fingers" comes over like a stall being set out, even while it serves as notice of how scores will be settled. Vibraphonist Matt Moran's ringing attack just about recalls Walt Dickerson in terms of an oblique approach, but beyond that no comparison springs readily to mind. The beat is pulled every which way in his solo, with the happy impression of musicians playing around the tempo, even while it's stated in no uncertain terms.
During the homage "Bill Barron," Fonda turns in a display brimming with character, and it's to his credit that this is the kind of thing that can be taken for granted. In the course of his solo, Musillami and Schuller coalesce around him in a manner that offers more than enough evidence of how deeply integrated this trio is, and when Musillami's turn comes around, there's no letup in the creative tension.
By way of contrastand perhaps a quaint notion of how the varied program is never off the agenda"Graphite" is a study in atmosphere, heightened by the sparse contributions of alto saxophonist Marty Ehrlich and trumpeter Ralph Alessi in the opening passage, before a singular variety coalesces into relatively straight ahead territory. Musillami is, however, too fond of the curveball for that to happen, as his solo brings the minimal and the oblique again to the fore before Ehrlich steps up, wailing in a manner that's post-modern, but happily without taking in any of the superficiality that term might suggest.
The tricky syncopations of "Ga Ga Goosebumps" nail that individual thing too. Here, as elsewhere, the groove is there, albeit veiled by what's going on over the top. The resulting tension is released on this occasion by Musillami's solo, embodying how, with thought and depth of knowledge, the music can be both challenging and rewarding.
Personnel: Ralph Alessi: trumpet; Marty Ehrlich: alto sax; Michael Musillami:
guitar; Matt Moran: vibes; Joe Fonda: bass; George Schuller: drums.