Alto saxophonist Matt Criscuolo's sound strikes me as quite distinctive on his second release, Lotus Blossom
. The opening title tune is Billy Strayhorn's lovely, wistful composition, featuring Criscuolo dueting with pianist Larry Willis. The altoist's tone has a tart tang, like a drink of lemonade a wee bit shortbracingly soon the sugar. The underrated veteran saxman Frank Morgan comes to mind in terms of tone, as well as in terms of attitude, with an energetic, fresh-sounding bop mood as the band comes in on the pianist's "The Wisdom Prize."
Criscuolo steals a page from the Sonny Rollins playbook with his use of trombonist Steve Davis as a frontline partner, giving the harmonies a rich, full sound. Several cuts feature a Latin vibe with the inclusion of Ray Mantilla's tasteful percussion. Wayne Shorter's "The Big Push" gets into a late '60s Blue Note groove. with the alto/trombone teaming sounding marvelous before Criscuolo soars off on a stinging, yet fluid solo.
Pianist Larry Willis brings a garrulously elegant accompanist's style to the proceedings, a distinctive voice in his own right, and he solos with a joyous verve.
Three tunes are Criscuolo-penned. He proves himself a mature songwriter, an artist with a finely focused vision, which is rare for someone on just his second recording. That vision carries through the entire set. One highlight is the Criscuolo-penned "Julian's Pencil," a stretched-out, churning, free-flowing romp full of lively soloing.
An excellent straight-ahead set with a progressive feeling.
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Track Listing: Lotus Blossom, To Wisdom the Prize, The Big Push, Everthing I Have Is Yours, Spirit Waltz,
Parakeet Lovesong, Julian's Pencil, Exciting World of Jazz, Song for Kerry, Iron Willis.
Personnel: Larry Willis: piano; Phil Bowler: bass; Steve Davis: trombone; Eric McPherson: drums; Ray
Mantilla: percussion; Matt Crisculo: alto saxophone.