Guitarist Michael Musillami asks the musical question: when is a working trio recording with a guest more like a quartet than an invitation to sit in? The answer, of course, is when a very sympathetic player joins you for a session and tour.
Musillami's trio of Joe Fonda (bass) and George Schuller (drums) has been working together for quite some time, releasing Beijing in 2002 and Dachau in 2005 on Musillami's Playscape Recordings label. The guitar/bass/drums format is the foundation for Musillami's intricate music experimentation and creativity. To that, he adds perhaps the most creative violinist working in jazz today, Mark Feldman. His discography and session work includes the John Abercrombie Quartet, Dave Douglas, Lee Konitz, Joe Lovano, Uri Caine, The Arcado String Trio and various John Zorn projects. His 2006 disc What Exit for ECM made many "best of lists, including mine.
Paired with the hour-long CD is a 45-minute concert DVD shot in high definition by three cameras.
The chemistry is evident on the title track, an intricate yet faux-rocker that features duos of guitar/bass then violin/drums. Whereas Musillami and Feldman can play as one, the band swaps partners to great effect through these intricate compositions. The blues inflection of Musillami and Fonda drips with emotion as the pair flex their musical muscles. Contrasting style is Feldman, slowing matters to a more measured duo with Schuller. The DVD version of the title track is twice the studio version's length, allowing for the players to really stretch out.
While the immediate draw here is the interplay between Musillami and Feldman, repeated spins draw you into the compositions themselves and the supporting players, Schuller and Fonda. Musillami has a knack of presenting his compositions in a highly digestible format. His complex writing never bogs down into distraction, largely due to a bright rhythm section that solos and accents with equal measure as the front line.
All that bravado is tabled on "Stark Beauty, a gentle ballad that is brimming with expression, Musillami and Feldman trade solos, each softer then the other. Elsewhere they play the intricate "Human Conditions, a spy movie sounding track with Feldman playing some sneaky pizzicato; a very swift-swinging "Mezz Money ; and the odyssey of "Beijing To Brooklyn, a lengthy piece that gathers momentum as the quartet steams toward Brooklyn.
Momentum is not one of the features this recording lacks.
Personnel: Michael Musillami: guitar, composer; Joe Fonda: bass; Mark Feldman: violin; George Schuller: drums.