Italian pianist Roberto Magris has been engaging in projects that cover a wide variety of styles for over twenty years. But his best qualities as a pianist and composer have always been in the straight-ahead jazz idiom. Magris clearly has a strong command of his instrument, displaying an innate romanticism that recalls pianists of a bygone era and a penchant for well-written, if fairly conventional, compositions that are balanced out by a unique grouping of off-kilter standards.
With West Coast veteran alto saxophonist Herb Geller on the front line, the proceedings are decidedly cool on Il Bello Del Jazz
, but not chilly. His sound is smooth and facile, with a few occasional surprises up his sleeve. "Some Other Spring" opens with an intimate sax/piano duet that illustrates the rationale for Magris' choice of sidemen; the two have an undeniable rapport that can be heard throughout the album. Geller delivers a truly fine solo on Stephen Sondheim's "Pretty Women," and his smooth tone fits in perfectly with bossa nova-inflected tunes like "No Sadness" and "Key Largo."
Magris himself is an appealing pianist with a very luxuriant approach to phrasing and chord voicings. "Stray Form" and "A New Town is a Blue Town" are fine illustrations of both his sensitivity and his ability to swing with a particularly loose and graceful sense of time. Throughout the disc, his comping is unobtrusive and sympathetic, with an uncanny sense of when not to play and a sometimes inspired sense of when to interjectan underrated quality when considering the merits of pianists.
But what makes this release surprising is Darko Jurkovic's playing on four of the tracks. The Croatian guitarist has an irrepressible, easily identifiable voice and his fluid soloing transcends the predictable bop-inspired framework of Magris' composition "Parker's Pen." His presence also livens up Geller's excellent "Deception." But the group really runs on all cylinders on the title track, as the order of soloistsJurkovic, Geller, Magris and bassist Rudi Engelraises the ante with each successive turn, ending the song at a very high, infectious energy level.
Despite the talent and apparent care that went into this release, the problem lies in that the group rarely strays from a format and approach that is somewhat staid. The result is that the collection as a whole takes on a bland, uniform character and that feeling of sameness is difficult to ignore. But it is certainly pleasant musicdreamy, lush and sometimes seductiveperformed by musicians of very high caliber. And while it poses no challenges and doesn't dazzle through innovation or provocation, perhaps it wasn't really meant to. Taken at face value, Il Bello Del Jazz
is a worthy effort.