In the intervening decade since guitarist Michael Musillami recorded his first Playscape sides, his playing has evolved substantially. He's broken the straight-ahead swinging mold that characterized his first three releases on the label, experimenting more with space and time. Beijing (2003) brought this forward- looking approach to the foreground. The latest in the string, Those Times, retreats to more familiar territory.
Musillami takes this opportunity to pursue his love for "the standard jazz repertoire," though only about half of these tunes would be immediately recognizable to the average jazz fan. No matter, the guitarist understands the music well and interacts very intuitively with the other members of his quartet. His strength has always been group dynamics, and this record is no exception.
If you had to single out a classic jazz guitarist with a sound most similar to Musillami's, it would be Wes Montgomery. Both players share a deep respect for swing, a strong bluesy feel, and a direct melodic approach. But the comparison ends there. Musillami's got more of an oblique sense of harmony, and he prefers to stab and thrust when it comes to time. He's helped along substantially in this regard by drummer George Schuller, who swings hard and keeps time but is anything but predictable.
Highlights of the record include "Angel Eyes," with a rippling linear introduction that segues into more complex melody lines with intermittent octaves, trills, and off-kilter comping. Bassist Dave Shapiro introduces a warm aura without overplaying. Sam Rivers' "Beatrice" waxes hopelessly romantic, piano and guiter intertwining in a relaxed manner that suggests loose improvisation.
The best thing about this record, other than the usual solid group interplay, is the way the quartet brings out the character of these "standards" without resorting to the usual cartoonish bluster. Improvisation dominates over arrangement, spontaneity over any master plan. But these tunes sound warm and familiar, like a blanket you'd throw over your lap in front of the fire.
Personnel: Michael Musillami: guitar; Ted Rosenthal: piano; Dave Shapiro: bass; George Schuller: drums.