Roger Mas 5tet: Mason (2007)
Fresh Sounds is based in Spain, but has released the debut recordings of many of the best new American jazz artists on the scene today. Their intriguing business plan also focuses on local talent, which means the best and brightest of the Barcelona jazz scene.
Thirty year-old pianist Roger Mas is one-third of the Barcelona piano trio Among 3, who made their FSNT premier in 2006. Making the most of this second-chance debut, he's crafted a pastoral, lyrical, panoramic arc of modern jazz.
This last statement applies to a subset of songs here, excluding two formidably executed bop numbers (a cover of "Moment's Notice and the title track) and a mid-tempo blues ("In Love in Vain ) that stand apart from the more impassioned remainder. These also highlight Mas' membership in the coterie of acoustic pianists that produce vocalizations while they improvise, evidently a preferred technique to engender the brand of lyrical non-pianistic improvisation of which Mas is expertly capable. Unfortunately, he's off-pitch and leaked copiously, beyond Jarrett territory, landing dangerously close to Masubimi Kikuchi's distraction quotient.
So it is that, in contrast to other pianists, Mas truly finds his (unmiked) voice and compositional stride on Fender Rhodes, where the vibe resembles three kindred spiritsFrank LoCrasto, Pete Rende and Jesse Chandler. "Millennium Park, taken at a languid pace, stirs inner embers, self-generating its own brand of alternative jazz-pop luster, immediately contending for your current iPod playlist. The melancholy theme is an emotive call-to-arms by tenorist Jon Robles that segues, after a long pause, to restatement and expansion by guitarist Jaume Llombart; but it's Mas' underpinnings that render the thematic material exquisite. The Rhodes trio section imparts a sense of refined lyricism that could only be developed over many years of playing free, but inside, combined with a knowing familiarity of Rhodes-based nuance.
The up-tempo burn of "Wizard showcases Mas, Llombart and Robles' way with faster tempos, notable for the way they surround notes with space no matter the throttle on pure speed. "Ionic is another piece highlighting folksier jazz elements, with Mas outlining the progression as a rock guitarist would strum it. Dual saxophones quickly impart a Latin feel, a taste of Tropicalia, giving way to Llombart's longest solo feature, wherein his refusal to add unnecessary notes draws us further into the song, not the solo. Throughout, Llombart shows he's another guitarist to watch on FSNT's deep roster. Mas' left hand demands the most attention during his solo hereeven as he dances so gracefully with his right against guitar dronesto hear the potential for his unique contribution to the evolution of Rhodes styles.
What Roger Mas and his young band show here is that style and musicality trump the tools used to express them. Mas himself is a case study that in the right hands, with the right songs and vibe, it may be prudent, in the cause of beautiful music, to forsake the grand tradition of acoustic trios for minimally processed electric instrumentation.
Track Listing: Moments Notice; Dana; Ionic; Mason; God & the Devil in the Land of the Sun Antonio Carlos Jobim); In Love in Vain; Wizard; Millenium Park.
Personnel: Roger Mas: Fender Rhodes, piano; Jon Robles: tenor and soprano sax; Enrique Oliver: tenor sax; Jaume Llombart: guitar; Bori Albero: bass; Juanma Nieto: drums.