Il Bello Del Jazz
is surely one of the most entrancing mainstream albums of the year. This group swings so effortlessly and with such sureness that its music transcends such labels as mainstream and becomes the simple the Ellingtonian "good." While this release sounds entirely different than Apparition
, it has that same smile-inducing warmth that comes from musicians who have lived this music and are playing from within it.
Herb Geller, regardless of his age (77), is a joy to listen to. Having grown up in the Swing Era with Benny Carter as his idol, Geller exudes that same ease and nonchalance that Carter (a truly amazing multi-instrumentalist, from reeds to trumpet) had, mixed with the sweetness of Johnny Hodges. His tone has a soft edge, and he knows exactly when to add just the right amount of vibrato.
It is unclear why Roberto Magris decided to call Geller, who has been living in Germany since 1958, and was nowhere near Magris' native Trieste, Italy. Whatever the reason, the recording session centered around a heavy bag of scores that Geller brought, saying that he wanted to do some tunes he had not recorded before. Magris gladly accepted, and in fact some of the tracks are unrehearsed takes directly recorded as they were played.
Magris is a clean and crystalline pianist who, while at ease with many modern styles, drops so completely in the swinging groove that one would think he was of the same generation as Geller. The most impressive part of what Magris does is the way he leads the rhythm section behind Geller. While his soloing is tasteful and to the pointand always lets that Italian sunshine throughhis comping and interaction with bassist Rudi Engl and drummer Gabriele Centis provides a solid center upon which Geller can soar.
A perfect example of this cohesion is the Geller original "Stray Form." After having full band support to state the theme, Geller begins his improvisation with just bass backing, and when the piano enters, the magic begins, only to be bettered when the rhythm section double-times and swings madly, only to duplicate the whole feel during a Magris solo. Marvelous. Guitarist Darko Jurkovic is a wonderful surprise, playing inventive and surprising solos using a Stanley Jordan-like hammer-on technique on four tracks. Il Bello Del Jazz
is a superior effort from a group of musicians who clearly were having a good time making this music.