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Mark Guiliana: Jersey

Geno Thackara By

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With an all-encompassing style that keeps him in high demand throughout the jazz world and beyond, perhaps it's unsurprising (if unfortunate) that Mark Guiliana boasts only a handful of titles to his own name. The middle of the 2010s saw him drumming in sessions with Dave Douglas or Avishai Cohen (among others) to briefly subbing with the equally inimitable Phronesis, leading up to 2017's live work and a festival appearance with the Donny McCaslin Group (the ensemble that was drafted to help shape David Bowie's swan song Blackstar (Sony, 2016)). Nonetheless the New Jersey native still squeezed in time with his band Beat Music, the electronic duo Mehliana with Brad Mehldau, and led a straightforward acoustic quartet on Family First (Beat Music Productions, 2015).

Half the quartet is changed for this followup, but Guiliana's relentless inventiveness remains in evidence (as does the affection for his comrades and his native roots). The opener "Inter Are" is almost the shortest piece to be found, but acts as a tidy sampler of the record's strengths as a whole: the group's sense of playfulness, the sparkling virtuosity of the soloists and the endlessly churning rhythms from the drum stool. If anything, Jersey is noticeably more off-the-wall thanks to the antics of Fabian Almazan at the piano—not that its predecessor didn't fire on all cylinders, but here Guiliana benefits from a partner as expressively quirky as he is. Almazan's skewed key-pounding is wild and dazzling, often nudging at the edges of tonality without quite going off the rails.

The pair's happy back-and-forth is well complemented by Jason Rigby's saxophone in the steadier front role. His leads are sprightly when called for (see the hard-swinging "Big Rig Jones") or thoughtfully expressive, as in the quiet meditation of "September" or his sly late-night coasting over Guiliana's and Chris Morrissey's angular walking lines in the title track. Rigby gives a particularly expressive lead on the closer, which is also the point where the whole ensemble shines most. Their take on Bowie's ballad "Where Are We Now?" is colored with heartfelt solos all around, followed by a buoyant vocal chorale to close on a beautiful emotional high.

The straightforward format here may eschew the electric or electronic trappings of Guiliana's other endeavors, but the quartet still incorporates the spectrum of those interests with wide-ranging compositions and frisky rhythms to match. If it takes time for these solo efforts to take shape among everything else he does, we can be sure it'll give him plenty more to bring back to the table, and results like Jersey are well worth the wait.

Track Listing: inter-are; Jersey; Our Lady; BP; Rate; September; Big Rig Jones; Mayor of Rotterdam; Where Are We Now?

Personnel: Mark Guiliana: drums; Fabian Almazan: piano; Jason Rigby: saxophone; Chris Morrissey: bass.

Title: Jersey | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Motéma Music

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