For those who've yet to hear the multifaceted Gary Versace in action, there is no better time than the present. His two most recent efforts, Many Places, a trio date featuring his soulful Hammond B3, Dick Oatts on saxophones and Matt Wilson on drums and Organic-Lee, a duo with legendary altoist Lee Konitz, show off Versace's talent as a soloist, accompanist and arranger.
Very much in the tradition, Many Places nonetheless sounds strikingly fresh. Versace's tricky lines are deftly executed by Oatts, whose restrained solos flourish amid the B3's whirling vibrato and the quiet grooves established by Wilson. The strikingly lyrical melody to Versace's "One Year From Today is stated by Oatts on alto over a sinewy Latin beat and Versace's gentle accompaniment; the leader takes over, showing Zen-like restraint in the face of his sonic options, weaving long, delicate lines.
The truly astonishing aspect of Versace's talent is the potent mix of virtuosity and musicality he brings in equal measure to each performance. In the hands of a lesser musician the B3 can easily overwhelm any musical setting, but Versace's ear and infallible sensibility seem to always lead him in the right musical direction. The five originals and four standards that comprise Many Places shine with originality and spontaneity and are a testament to the scope of the leader's vision.
Perhaps the ultimate test of a jazz artist's musicality is to play duo with Lee Konitz. The altoist's disdain for virtuosic showboating is near legendary and his bare bones improvisational approach tends to throw even the most seasoned veteran out of their comfort zone. The fact that Versace thrives on Organic-Lee, maintaining the high level of intimacy and conversation that make Konitz' albums so unique, is perhaps the best praise that one could pay to the burgeoning talent.
Versace's rhythmic accompaniment coddles Konitz' spare alto statement on "Old Folks, letting the leader's alto ground the piece before his B3 takes flight, painting the backdrop with a wide array of sonic color. Konitz is wry and playful and Versace never falters in providing an appropriate counterpoint, sustaining long, mournful chords on "How Long Has This Been Going On and lending a percussive air to Konitz' unique take on "Giant Steps .
Billy Srayhorn's "A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing finds the duo at their most sublime. Versace's intro is imbued with an almost religious reverence, ebbing and flowing in whispered waves before Konitz drifts in with the plaintive melody. Versace's solo insinuates the songs undulating pulse, while adding the perfect amount of harmonic intrigue. At the height of the improvisation, Konitz enters with the melody and gently pulls Versace back down to the whispered conclusion.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most; Seen From Above; 16 By 12; Many Places; I Wished On The Moon; One Year From Today; September In The Rain; Home; Love For Sale.
Personnel: Gary Versace: organ; Dick Oatts: saxophones; Matt Wilson: drums.
Tracks: Old Folks; How Long Has This Been Going On; A-Blues; In Your Own Sweet Way; Giant Steps; A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing; Sweet and Lovely; Come Sunday; My Old Flame.
Personnel: Player Name: Lee Konitz: alto saxophone; Gary Versace: organ.