Michael Musillami Trio: Old Tea (2010)
Guitarist Michael Musillami composed the music for this program in the wake of his son Evan's death. The fact that it's measured and profoundly beautiful is testament to what music can do, and the fact that it's so superbly realized comes down to the fact that this trio is supremely empathetic. Five recordings to date are testament to why this is, and of these this is arguably the one that hits the spot most resoundingly.
Knowledge is sometimes a debilitating thing and it's hard to get over the circumstances outlined above until the music hits. The leader's opening notes on "Introduction" are both tentative and focused in a manner that comes only from knowing that he's in convivial musical company. Fonda's arco work is right in the mood even though this is a lot more than mere mood music. The two men are caught in a mutually reflective state of mind, but as the music gels it becomes clear why this group works so well. In thinking as one, all three players retain their musical identities in a fashion that's nothing short of extraordinary.
"Shiner At Rocky's" is, by contrast, an exercise in kinetic oppositeness. The leader is not a man for trotting out the clichés of jazz guitar, and this one makes clear that his tone as much as any other element of his work is a mark of his individuality. This is something he has in common with Mary Halvorson in the sense that his slightly percussive attack makes for clean articulation, with his notes spinning out in a manner bounded by inexorable, singular logic.
Variety is one of the names of the game, too, and on "A True Original" Musillami's fondness for tricky, intricate unisons with Joe Fonda again rises to the surface before the bassist's dark vamp acts as an improvisational springboard. George Schuller's rhythmic displacement becomes the third voice in the trialog, at which point it becomes clear that this unit is in essence a collective endeavor.
In this regard, one could argue that the group takes a cue from the trio work of pianist Bill Evans, with all the dissimilarities in dynamics. "Umbrella Top....That's How I Roll" exemplifies this dissimilarity, especially as it's Fonda's bass around which the music coalesces. Schuller's use of brushes seems at first to be at odds with the momentum the other two generate, but then the subtleties of the ensemble effort comes into their own as a positive affirmation of the human spirit.
Track Listing: Introduction; Old Tea; Shiner At Rocky's; The Binary Smirk (drum interlude); 'king Alok; Kitchen Tribute (collective interlude); 'evy-boy; A True Original; Jameson #30 (bass interlude); Umbrella Top....That's How I Roll; Three Hundred Plus.
Personnel: Michael Musillami: guitar; Joe Fonda: bass, flute; George Schuller: drums.