Massimo Biolcati: Persona (2008)
Given the industry's current state of affairs, maintaining a record label, let alone an improvisatory music based one, requires creativity to say the least. One such venture to really start garnering attention to itself is Michele Locatelli's six year-old ObliqSound. While theirs is still a relatively young history, the New School University alum and the label's devoted staffers are nevertheless to be praised not only for their acumen in developing a sophisticated brand and business, but also for sustaining their vision of offering gripping yet marketable music.
The ninth release in their Instrumental Series, bassist Massimo Biolcati's solo effort Persona, somewhat encapsulates the label's creative creed. An accessible yet musically dense, multi-genre release, it blends characteristic traits that encompass the label's growing catalogue: a focus on instrumental virtuosity and contemporary writing and playing cohabiting with a more "popular," vocal-inclusive component. In a way, Persona challenges MOR jazz with cutting edge, fusionesque syncopations and happy beats, unabashed improv, and pensive balladeering.
The Sweden-born Biolcati comes to the label from fellow labelmate guitarist/vocalist Lionel Loueke's band, whose spirited playing is generously featured herein. He is also aided by Jeff Ballard's stellar drumming, pianist/accordionist Peter Rende, who also earn a "vocals" credit for his rather odd and disruptive singing in the ending track, as well as the velvety vocals of Lizz Wright and ObliqSound's own gleaming darling Gretchen Parlato. Each vocalist guests on one track in the mellower second half of the album's bipartite program.
Of the more energetic first section's compositions, "Transference" grabs attention for its expansive formal layout. An Mbira-sounding hubbub introduces a theme in 5/4 which segues into a 6/8 vamp that acts as a transition to a mid-tempo section with alternating 3/4 and 4/4 measures on which Rende solos before yielding the floor to Loueke, who in turn reintroduces the African element, this time with traditional, percussive vocal techniques. Formal considerations aside, the composition's organic vibe makes for a nice, pleasurable listen.
"TT," an easy-going samba with neat harmonic and rhythmic twists, has Loueke and Rende both soloing simultaneously on the tune's relaxed feel. Considering that Loueke's George Benson-like vocal doubling, gimmicky wah-wah guitar sound, and comping behind the pianist's left hand pretty much cover all inches of the aural tapestry, the decision to have the pair simultaneously solo throughout the track remains a questionable one. To paraphrase Led Zeppelin's grand anthem, you get "a whole lotta Lionel," in an already quite packed program. That said, Loueke's special talent has one overlook such minor irritants who are, indeed, offset by the program's more laid-back second part.
In sum, Persona is a strong, first outing that should create interesting opportunities for its leader.
Track Listing: The Beginning; Deconstruction; Wise Way; Transference; TT; Winterhouse; Hopeless Dream To Be; Under July; Scandinavia.
Personnel: Massimo Biolcati: bass; Lionel Loueke: guitar, vocals; Jeff Ballard: drums; Peter Rende: piano, accordion, vocals; Gretchen Parlato: vocals (8); Lizz Wright: vocals (6).