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Tom Rizzo: Imaginary Numbers

C. Michael Bailey By

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Los Angeles-based guitarist Tom Rizzo originally released Imaginary Numbers as a self-produced offering from his website, with the title Imaginary Numbers—Guitar Plus Eight. The disc has, fortunately, been picked up by Origin Arts, joining several other notable guitarists at the label including Corey Christiansen, Larry Koonse, Mimi Fox and John Stowell. Origin Art continues to accumulate first rate guitar talent in their virtual West coast offices.

It should not be neglected that Rizzo's recording employs a nonet, giving shadow to Miles Davis's famous 1949 nonet that spirited in the "cool jazz" era that was to take firm hold on the West Coast several years later. The same precisely arranged collection originals and standards, that served as the 1949 band's book, translate 50 years later into Rizzo's swinging vision on Imaginary Numbers.

Rizzo's guitar is right up front in the mix and the arrangements. Trombonist Nick Lane arranged the opening original, "B-Like" (as he did for the lion's share of the disc), providing a telling map of jazz invention. Rizzo opens the piece solo, with a sinewy single-note/chorded head that is picked up by the rhythm section in a fast walk for a chorus, before the brass sneaks in. The overall sound is that exciting intersection of small combo creativity and big band momentum which characterizes "little-big band" performance.

The title piece is a lyrically conservative and thoroughly modern mini-duet between Rizzo and soprano saxophonist Bob Sheppard. Sonny Rollins' "Oleo" is updated with low-register punctuation by pianist Rich Eames in the head, and responds well to Lane's little-big band arrangement, swinging with the force of a much larger band while retaining the intimacy of its smaller setting. Hard bop anthems "One for Daddy-O" and "Along Came Betty" are softened at the edges by Rizzo's lead, making them almost ballad-like. Thus presented, Imaginary Numbers is a superb recording in every way.

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