Grassi’s star is on the rise. As one of the most frequently recorded drummers for CIMP he’s found a nurturing avenue to communicate his abundant abilities. Listeners attuned to this handful of releases have been met by a mature musician whose only limits on his music are the number of hours in the day that he can devote to his craft. This disc is several years old and in the interim since it’s release Grassi has taken part in a variety of new projects both as a leader and sideman, all which are worth seeking out. The Po’ Band is one of his most exciting assemblages and though it is only comprised of five men these five generate the dynamic range of a group twice their number.
The disc is divided into three lengthy pieces which balance structured play with collective improvisation and two shorter arrangements, one of which is a duet between Morris and Grassi. Articulated into three distinct parts the interlocking composition allows each of the players plenty of individual latitude to shape the music’s direction. A pervading sense of mutual participation colors the deep listening favored by the group and results in a wealth of intricately conceived ideas. Grassi’s fluid drums and Morris’ pulsing strings forge the propulsive energy that powers the horns into their numerous flights of spontaneous fancy.
“We Too,” a duet piece that is both brief and quiet, features some incredible pizzicato work by Morris that parallels the sound of pattering rain on pane glass. On “Air Play” the players converse in a muted vernacular of microtonal whistles and squeaks. Later in the piece the quintet subdivides into component parts and offers a wide array of instrumental combinations. “Train Ride” is the longest excursion and demonstrates the group’s passion for juxtaposing quiet and clamor. Morris and Grassi open the piece in hushed, but bristling interplay before the horn’s eventual arrival in a scurry of muted slurs and smears. Robinson’s place as the only reed makes him an integral part of the proceedings. His adroit breathing and fingering conjure a myriad of tonal possibilities from the clarinet that combine with the brass in provocative collusion. All of the pieces on the disc require some patience on the part of the listener when in comes to unraveling their mysteries and are definitely not for casual listening. Grassi’s confidence in demanding the same level of concentration from his audience as he himself applies to the creation of his music speaks again to his stature as a serious artist.
Personnel: Lou Grassi- drums, percussion; Perry Robinson- clarinet, ocarina; Herb Robertson- cornet, trumpet; Steve Swell- trombone; Wilbur Morris- bass.