Make a difference: Support jazz online

Support All About Jazz Your friends at All About Jazz are looking for readers to help back our website upgrade project. Of critical importance, this project will result in a vastly improved reader experience across all devices and will make future All About Jazz projects much easier to implement. Click here to learn more about this project including donation rewards.

184

John Ruocco: Am I Asking Too Much?

John Kelman By

Sign in to view read count
Born in the United States, John Ruocco is one of many artists who have found a fuller life abroad. The 56 year-old saxophonist/clarinetist has lived in The Netherlands for years and is a fixture on both the Dutch and Belgian scenes, with a significant discography and current activities including directing both the Dutch Jazz Orchestra and Den Haag Conservatory Big Band. Living below the radar in his country of origin isn't unusual, but with two 2008 releases—composer Myriam Alter's Where is There (Enja) and his own Am I Asking Too Much?—this may finally be the year Ruocco becomes at least a little better known to American listeners.



Am I Asking Too Much? is an intimate trio affair with British pianist John Taylor and Italian bassist Riccardo Del Fra. Taylor and Del Fra aren't strangers to each other—their 2002 trio disc Overnight, with trumpeter Kenny Wheeler on the defunct Sketch label, was a sadly overlooked gem, and the same chemistry brought to that project is on equal view here. Ruocco, who restricts himself solely to clarinet, may be the titular leader, but this is collaboration of equals with delineated solos of decided strength. Still, it's the constant give-and-take that makes these six Ruocco compositions stand out as a combination of the familiar and the unpredictable, all in a nuanced chamber jazz setting that renders palatable even the most adventurous trialogues.



Ruocco's music often starts in a lyrical place with a gentle pulse and elegant tenor, but the trio isn't afraid to take things farther out by being on the lookout for the subtlest of suggestions. Taylor's accompaniment picks up on Ruocco's slightest dynamic shifts and linear flurries, moving the foundation increasingly left of center alongside Del Fra, for Ruocco's solo on the initially soft waltz "Little Stones."



Taylor's harmonic approach has always been sophisticated, but in recent years he's also achieved a greater stream-of-consciousness aesthetic that remains distinctly incorporative of his musical surroundings. Whirlpool (Cam Jazz, 2008) was an exercise in group interaction, but with Taylor unequivocally at the helm. Here, with Ruocco's deceptive writing positioning the musical terrain, the pianist may be even more impressive in his instant recognizability despite fitting seamlessly into a group approach that straddles the line between rich melodism and whimsical idiosyncrasy.



As refined and linked to the jazz tradition as the music is—both harmonically and with its paradoxically pervasive yet occasionally elusive sense of swing—the trio sometimes creates music like a house of cards. The pulse of "A Glimmer" is clear at the outset but soon dissolves into a free-thinking three-way exchange---no single instrument defining, but together uncannily implying, the rhythm throughout.



It's the very feeling that the whole thing could fall apart at any moment—but doesn't—that makes Am I Asking Too Much? such a captivating listen. With palpable risk-taking permeating the entire set, Ruocco, Taylor and Del Fra demonstrate one needn't be abstruse or oblique to convey the sound of surprise.


Track Listing: Kuk Kuk; Am I Asking Too Much (If I Ask For World Peace); A Glimmer; Benebe; Waltz 4; Little Stones.

Personnel: John Ruocco: clarinet; John Taylor: piano; Riccardo del Fra: bass.

Title: Am I Asking Too Much? | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Pirouet Records

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Roppongi CD/LP/Track Review Roppongi
by Mark Sullivan
Published: January 19, 2018
Read Is Life Long? CD/LP/Track Review Is Life Long?
by Mark Corroto
Published: January 19, 2018
Read Contra la indecision CD/LP/Track Review Contra la indecision
by Mike Jurkovic
Published: January 19, 2018
Read Vessel in Orbit CD/LP/Track Review Vessel in Orbit
by Don Phipps
Published: January 19, 2018
Read Pulse/Quartet CD/LP/Track Review Pulse/Quartet
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: January 19, 2018
Read OR CD/LP/Track Review OR
by Geno Thackara
Published: January 18, 2018
Read "Bach: Solo Works for Marimba" CD/LP/Track Review Bach: Solo Works for Marimba
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: July 15, 2017
Read "The Grateful Dead 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition" CD/LP/Track Review The Grateful Dead 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition
by Doug Collette
Published: February 4, 2017
Read "Dialectrical" CD/LP/Track Review Dialectrical
by John Sharpe
Published: June 19, 2017
Read "Little Steps" CD/LP/Track Review Little Steps
by Troy Dostert
Published: May 20, 2017
Read "Borrowed Time" CD/LP/Track Review Borrowed Time
by Troy Dostert
Published: August 15, 2017
Read "The Organ Grinder" CD/LP/Track Review The Organ Grinder
by Chris M. Slawecki
Published: April 1, 2017