Michael Musillami Trio + 3: From Seeds (2009)
Connecticut-based Michael Musillami is a guitarist firmly rooted in the modern post-Coltrane jazz tradition but not above applying a rock-ish tone and aggression at times to good effect, as heard on the title track to From Seeds. His early work with the late saxophonist Thomas Chapin is worth seeking out but he really came into his own around 2000 when he formed a trio with bassist Joe Fonda and drummer George Schuller. Over the course of three albums (Beijing, Dachau and Treatment, the latter with guest violinist Mark Feldman), they've honed a highly cohesive approach to Musillami's complex compositions, easily switching from post bop-centered swing to free improvisation to blues-based interludes, all the while maintaining a dialogue where each member is musically equal. With From Seeds, Musillami has added two horns (saxophonist Marty Ehrlich and trumpeter Ralph Alessi) and, in lieu of a piano, the vibes of Matt Morana great decision. The guitar/vibes combination can result in a mushy midrange but Moran's multi-textured instrumentfrom crisp to gauzy with the occasional touch of electronicsblends nicely with Musillami.
Musillami has also written a set of six compositions specifically for this group format. These players are not only able to maneuver the tricky ins and outs of these pieces but also seem to be genuinely inspired by them. "Splayed Fingers" may get its name from the spidery line bassist Fonda plays on the intro to the tune, a descending walking bass line that bounces all over on its downward tumbling path, but could also refer to the theme, figures that twist and turn, rise and fall, dovetail and burst apart in unexpected ways.
It's a bit of complexity that sounds like it was hell to master but once under the belt a hell of a lot of fun to play. Musillami makes some unexpected soloing assignments such as featuring Alessi on "Wisteria Hysteria Blues." Although not a blues-inflected trumpeter, his solo on this track, with its fluttering acrobatic phrases, makes this an inspired choice. And throughout, the core trio functions as a modern rhythm section should, almost telepathically shifting tempos, driving soloists, creating the space to support the added heft in the frontline. As much as any of their trio dates, From Seeds shows Musillami, Fonda and Schuller to be one of the finest working units in jazz today, with or without the "+3."
Track Listing: Splayed Fingers; Ga-Ga-Goosebumps; From Seeds; Wisteria Hysteria Blues; Graphite; Bill Barron.
Personnel: Michael Musillam: guitar; Ralph Alessi: trumpet; Marty Ehrlich: alto saxophone; Matt Moran: vibes; Joe Fonda: bass; George Schuller: drums.