A welcome change from the all-too-familiar musical extremes of pop-influenced sonic assaults and empty virtuosity, saxophonist/flutist Tony Vacca’sThree Point Landing
is one of those rare recordings that is both accessible and invigorating. The band plays as if they’re in front of a knowing, responsive audience, instead of the impersonal confines of a recording studio. Making no claim to innovation, the music’s roots are in bebop but incorporate a number of other influences. Interspersed among three standards, the leader’s six original compositions evince considerable charm. A rhythm section consisting of pianist Peter Martin, bassist Roland Guerin, and drummer Jason Marsalis handle the tunes’ diverse frameworks with aplomb, providing an interactive foundation that never becomes overly busy. Vacca and Martin, the disc’s two principal soloists (the record’s co-producer, trumpeter Irvin Mayfield, and alto saxophonist Aaron Fletcher also make guest appearances) are earnest yet not stodgy, reminding us that, at its best, jazz is simultaneously serious and playful.
Martin’s kinetic, Latin-oriented chords jump-start “Samba de Baca,” the disc’s opening cut. Vacca states the melody on alto with a tart, full-bodied tone. He twists song-like lines around the movement of the piano, bass, and drums, oscillating between leaving open space for the others to fill and resolutely driving forward. Next, as Guerin holds the music together, Martin and Marsalis engage in an intricate dance, bouncing spiky rhythms off one another that often break loose from the underlying pulse.
Marsalis’ exemplary drumming puts the band right in the pocket on Vacca’s medium tempo “Shoe Suede Blues.” During Guerin’s walking introduction and two helpings of the head he utilizes different textures to tersely embellish the beat. Starting with smooth sticking on the hi-hat, then adding an occasional hit to the bass drum while strokes to the snare augment and comment on the melody, the music is bouncing with energy by the time Marsalis shifts to a ringing ride cymbal. He then complements the solos of Mayfield, Vacca, and Martin by employing an ingenious balance of assertiveness and restraint. Finally, each of Marsalis’ four bar exchanges with the band has a disparate theme—ranging from a roller coaster ride around the set and back, separated by a choked cymbal crash, to a subdued bass drum figure offset by the slight clasp of the hi-hat on two and four.
Beginning with a quixotic cadenza followed by a tender rendition of the melody, Vacca’s treatment of “Body and Soul,” the tenor saxophonists’ Mount Everest, is a worthy addition to the long line of excellent recorded versions of the ballad. Both Martin and Vacca take solos which convey individuality and depth of musicianship, yet both play in a way that sustains an inspiring, emotional connection to the material. The result is that the music lets us in and, in a sense, becomes ours as well.
Personnel: Tony Vacca--tenor sax, alto sax, flute; Irvin Mayfield--trumpet (2); Aaron Fletcher--alto sax (8); Peter Martin--piano; Roland Guerin--bass; Jason Marsalis--drums.