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July 2012: Mike Cemprola Quintet

RJ Johnson By

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Mike Cemprola Quintet

Jose Pistola's

Philadelphia, PA

July 30, 2012

For his debut as a leader, alto saxophonist Mike Cemprola led a quintet comprised of some of Philadelphia's most in-demand musicians and up-and-coming sidemen for his show at Jose Pistola's on July 30.

The band's unique lineup allowed each tune to shift in several different directions, showcasing an aesthetic marked by improvisational individuality and empathetic interplay. Favoring a set of jazz standards, the group seemed determined to find new paths through old material, rather than simply trading solos.

The rhythm section featured bassist Sandy Eldred and drummer Joe Truglio, both of whom have become increasingly busy sidemen amongst the newer generation in the city's jazz scene. Though they may not have much experience playing together within a working band, their styles supported the divergent musical personalities of each soloist, instantly interpreting dynamic shifts and harmonic nudges. Cemprola's style seems to require such a rhythm section; while his vocabulary seems largely inspired by the bebop tradition, his lines often spiral in unexpected directions— sometimes inspired by a melodic suggestion or chord substitution provided by guitarist Kevin Hanson}. On trumpeter Miles Davis' "Solar," Cemprola played a lengthy introduction, ambiguously suggesting the tune's melody rather than simply stating its written theme. Rhythmically, Cemprola broke his lines up in inventive ways, which added a somewhat cyclical feel to his improvisations. His phrasing did not provide an obvious outline of the tune's form, which made each solo feel intuitive rather than academic.

Hanson's approach combined a linear style rich in the jazz tradition, with a feel somewhat akin to fusion guitarists such as John Scofield. His sound possessed slight natural overdrive, which suited the blues licks and double-time lines which Hanson wove into his solos. Though Hanson's style was not derived strictly from jazz guitarists, his harmonic underpinning anchored the band as effectively as any veteran accompanist. This was especially vital during trumpeter John Swana's improvisations, which often evolved from a linear approach into an ethereal cloud of sound.

Swana played an instrument called an EVI (Electronic Valve Instrument), which is played like a trumpet, but operates much like a synthesizer, run through effects modules and other electronic devices and projected through an amplifier. Swana has created many of his own customized patches for the EVI.: some are simpler sounds, used for stating melodies or playing within a more straight-ahead format , while others combine reverb and delay effects to create long streams of sound which seem to fade into each other. In a way, Swana's aesthetic can be compared to modern guitarists such as Kurt Rosenwinkel and Bill Frisell, both of whom often employ effects to create a chamber-like effect for their instruments. The careful combination of reverb and delay creates harmonies which are more pianistic. and melodies which sound smooth and even., rather than jagged and sharp. Swana is certainly one of Philadelphia's most unique jazz musicians, and his sound is continuing to take on new directions.

Hopefully this show will be one of many for Cemprola's quintet. If this band can work together this well on its first gig, future shows will certainly worth the wait.

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