Gary Versace: Four Views of a Sideman

Ken Dryden By

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Although Gary Versace isn't the leader on any of these four CDs, there's an obvious reason why each artist chose Versace for their respective record date; the organist/pianist brings strong technique and skill as an improviser while maintaining a degree of restraint to meet the needs of each leader.

Andy Laverne Trio
Intelligent Design

Although Intelligent Design isn't the first band to feature both a pianist and organist together in a trio setting, it is still the exception rather than the rule. But Andy LaVerne's choice of Versace (who is also a fine pianist) is due to the his ability to blend with the leader, along with drummer Danny Gottlieb, whose restrained style of percussion provides a perfect fit for the session. LaVerne's nine originals are stimulating material for the trio, highlighted by plenty of give and take between the two keyboardists, who closely listen to one another to avoid any sound clashes. "Ultra Sound is a gently swaying piece with a Latin undercurrent, while "Noteworthy is a brisk hard bop delight that swings like mad. "Upside is a soulful cooker that will get body parts swaying along with it, though "Remembrance is a thoughtful, bittersweet ballad that has an obviously sentimental streak. Finally, the title track is a remarkably subtle post-bop vehicle with an occasionally gospel backdrop that never overplays its hand. LaVerne and Versace could very well stimulate other piano/organ combos to follow in their very large footsteps.

Dave Scott

Trumpeter Dave Scott works sporadically with the musicians heard on Naiveté; tenor saxophonist Rich Perry and pianist Versace have other regular gigs as sidemen, in addition to their own respective dates, bassist John Hebert and drummer Jeff Williams rounding out the band. But the lineup is intact from Scott's earlier CD Song For Amy and he once more focuses on his compelling compositions, which were literally rehearsed during their gigs in preparation for this recording. As a result, the players are up to the demands of Scott's challenging post-bop charts, which allow for a lot of freedom. Scott's potent trumpet and Perry's full-bodied tenor are featured in the swirling "Hypervigilance , the moody "Oaxaquendo showcases simultaneously improvised lines by the two horns and Versace's haunting, spacious introduction to the title track sets the mood for the piece. Scott is clearly someone deserving of wider recognition.

Ari Ambrose
On Another Day

Ari Ambrose stands out from most of the tenor saxophonists of his generation for several reasons. Not only is he developing a distinctive sound, but also he refuses to take a predictable path, constantly shifting players and instrumentation used from one session to the next. On Another Day, his eighth CD as a leader for SteepleChase, features Versace on organ, trumpeter Joe Magnarelli and drummer Mark Ferber playing a mix of enticing originals and fresh arrangements of familiar standards in a session that doesn't really fit into any one style. Magnarelli is the perfect foil for the leader, while Versace's attentive accompaniment is remarkably subtle while providing a strong bass line, though he too is a potent soloist. Ambrose's originals are a diverse lot: "Bang blends lively post-bop exchanges between the two horns over the funky rhythm provided by Versace and Ferber and the leader wails in his breezy "Clueless , a complex up-tempo blues. The standards are equally impressive. Ambrose approaches "Who Can I Turn To? by picking up the tempo instead of opting for its somewhat melodramatic stage setting, though he's perfectly happy retaining the subdued tempo in "Never Let Me Go , playing a lush, lyrical solo that leaves room for the music to breathe. "If I Had You dates back to the Swing Era, but Ambrose keeps it fresh with a lively modern setting and a robust solo that suggests Sonny Rollins' adventurous spirit.

Dan Balmer
Alt Rnativ Ja Z

Although he isn't as known as the sidemen on his eighth CD as a leader, guitarist Dan Balmer has his moments on Thanksgiving, a disc of originals. With Versace once more on organ and the much in-demand drummer Matt Wilson, the trio delves into a wide range of jazz, with the leader often sounding a lot like John Scofield or Bill Frisell. Most of the music is rather laid back, though the blistering "Stalled and the well-named "Greasy Kid Stuff break free of the mold. The funky "Allow Myself has a humorous edge, while the country-flavored "Just Like You is also appealing. Unfortunately, the loping "Hearts of Steel sounds like a bland pop song transformed into a jazz setting. While Balmer obviously has chops on his instrument, his compositions don't leave much of a lasting impression. His CD might have benefited by allowing Versace more space to solo and including a few familiar songs.

Tracks and Personnel

Intelligent Design

Tracks: Short Story; Ultra Sound; Note Worthy; Upside; Remembrance; Ambrosia; Tsunami; Can Your Glue Do This?; Intelligent Design.

Personnel: Andy La Verne: piano; Gary Versace: B3 organ; Danny Gottlieb: drums.


Tracks: Hypervigilance; Nothing Is Sacred; Oaxaqueno; Chromaddict; Naiveté; Nice Treatment; Sense Of Urgency.

Personnel: Dave Scott: trumpet; Rich Perry: tenor sax; Gary Versac: piano; John Hebert: bass; Jeff Williams: drums.

On Another Day

Tracks: Bang; Who Can I Turn To?; Clueless; I Fall In Love Too Easily; Samsara; Never Let Me Go; Vai Chegar; On Another Day; If I Had You.


Tracks: Venus; Allow Myself; Just Like You; The Longest Day of the Year; Hearts of Steel; Greasy Kid Stuff; The Sea the Sea; Stalled; Rain; Thanksgiving.

Personnel: Dan Balmer: electric guitar; Gary Verace: organ; Matt Wilson: drums.


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