184

John Ruocco: Am I Asking Too Much?

John Kelman By

Sign in to view read count
John Ruocco: Am I Asking Too Much? 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 Crossing CD/LP/Track Review Crossing
by Geno Thackara
Published: June 25, 2017
Read Unit[e] CD/LP/Track Review Unit[e]
by Karl Ackermann
Published: June 25, 2017
Read Such A Sky CD/LP/Track Review Such A Sky
by Bruce Lindsay
Published: June 25, 2017
Read Buer: Book Of Angels Volume 31 CD/LP/Track Review Buer: Book Of Angels Volume 31
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: June 25, 2017
Read BACHanalia CD/LP/Track Review BACHanalia
by Jack Bowers
Published: June 24, 2017
Read Hallways CD/LP/Track Review Hallways
by Paul Rauch
Published: June 24, 2017
Read "Some Great Songs Vol. 2" CD/LP/Track Review Some Great Songs Vol. 2
by Mark Sullivan
Published: February 6, 2017
Read "Sureste" CD/LP/Track Review Sureste
by Sacha O'Grady
Published: October 2, 2016
Read "Sing House" CD/LP/Track Review Sing House
by Troy Dostert
Published: June 11, 2017
Read "More Figs And Blue Things" CD/LP/Track Review More Figs And Blue Things
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: December 3, 2016
Read "Tipico" CD/LP/Track Review Tipico
by James Nadal
Published: January 12, 2017
Read "Wonders" CD/LP/Track Review Wonders
by Mark F. Turner
Published: August 12, 2016

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.