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A band with an inscrutable name debuts with this session, which is anything but. Guitarist Victor Magnani, bassist Martin Rizek and drummer George Coleman, Jr. are joined by veteran tenor saxman Don Braden for a satisfying, hard-charging hour of music made up of eight numbersseven by Magnani, one by Coleman's father. Magnani has one previous album to his credit, Change Management (Orchard, 2001), featuring songs by John Coltrane, Billy Strayhorn and Charles Mingus, among others.
The album snaps to attention with "Navl Gazr," an up-tempo, declarative vehicle that is all but owned by Braden's muscular tenor. Braden sweetens his tone as he weaves his instrument through the fabric of "There's No Then in Zen," a casual walk through the park that showcases Magnani's delicate phrasing on the guitar. The songs reflect the strengths and weaknesses in Magnani's writing: while his tunes are straight, simple and true, they also lack a sense of adventure, of a search for something beyond the chords. For that, we rely on the playing, which rises above Magnani's charcoal sketches and transforms the music into performances that are bracing, dynamic and bright with color.
Magnani was smart to invite Braden, who does much more than sit in. He's an integral part of The Rivington Project. The interplay between the two finds its firmest footing on the funky "A-Nuf" and "Why Aren't You Listening?", a slow, smoky blues with some crisp staccato notes from Magnani. So tightly are the two wound around each other that the sax emerges without a ripple from the sonic surface sheen of the guitar.
Braden has more good moments, but none so eloquent as the ones on "New, As of Yet Unnamed Ballad" where his dark, ardent sighs on the tenor evoke Coleman Hawkins. Magnani's whispers on the guitar flutter like a baby's eyelashes. In George Coleman, Sr.'s "Amsterdam After Dark," the band finds the groove from the opening notes. Rizek's bass steadily anchors the piece while lurking in and around the beat, and Coleman Jr.'s snare and cymbals add a visceral, magnetic urgency.
I wish some of Braden's tunes had been included. Maybe next time. And maybe too the band, already in command of a shapely, concise, energetic sound, will let its hair down a bit and transfer some of the mystery around its name to the music.
Track Listing: Navl Gazr; There's No Then in Zen; Giant Blues; New, As of Yet Unnamed Ballad; Ikon Tact;
A-Nuf; Why Aren't You Listening; Amsterdam After Dark.
Personnel: George Coleman Jr.: drums; Victor Magnani: guitar; Martin Rizek: bass; Don Braden: tenor