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Ernesto Cervini: Little Black Bird

Dan Bilawsky By

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Wit and wisdom are doled out in equal measure throughout many of drummer Ernesto Cervini's compositions. Whether he is writing a piece in honor of his grandmother ("Nonna Rosa") or musically reliving a bad bird-related experience on his honeymoon ("Little Black Bird"), his music always comes across as smart, with an occasional tongue-in-cheek element at play.

On Little Black Bird, Cervini serves up eight of his own delectable musical dishes, along with his arrangement of Radiohead's "2 + 2 = 5," and these pieces highlight his talent with the pen, his skill behind the kit, and the remarkable versatility of saxophonist Joel Frahm. Both men are the key figures on the album-opening "Coconut Bill," a Lennie Tristano-influenced blues which features some solo trading between Frahm and Cervini.

The title track is a daring piece that undergoes a tremendous journey during its seven-plus minute lifespan. Cervini's introductory solo is an engaging collection of ticks and toms, and Frahm's entrance leads to a menacing place. Different pairings—like bass and saxophone over drums, or drums conversing with bass—take place, and the music reaches a slightly abstracted state that perfectly balances an in-meets-out aesthetic. In many ways, this piece has a kinship to Joe Lovano's work with his Us Five band, despite Cervini's group having one less player. Cervini's move from audacious audible ideas to the soothing sounds of "Nonna Rosa" is disarming; his brushwork on full display, with bassist Jon Maharaj taking a contemplative solo turn.

"Jimmy Rey" feels McCoy Tyner-influenced at first, but moves elsewhere when the saxophone and bass features take place. These sections succeed with a sophisticated searching quality that's in line with some of Branford Marsalis' work. Everybody tiptoes at the top of "On Being Grand," and it's nice to hear a jazz waltz that hit the head with an obvious downbeat. "Seven Claps" is the only piece on the album that seems to have a slight lack of direction, but the band quickly moves on with the barnburner, "Cerebrau." Cervini solos right out of the gate, and a burning swing feel underscores Frahm's wild ride, capped off with a "Wicked Witch Of The West" reference from The Wizard of Oz. Cervini's mid-track solo is a brilliant display of his mastery, and a Tyner influence again pops up—this time in pianist Adrean Farrugia's hands—towards the end of the piece.

In terms of rock influences on jazz musicians, Radiohead rules the roost, and Cervini closes out the album with a terrific take on its "2 + 2 = 5." The quartet finds the right balance of seduction and paranoid intensity so prevalent in Radiohead's best pieces, and it's easy to get sucked into its sound and ever-deepening groove. With talent this big and music this magical, the only thing "little" about this album is the title.

Track Listing: Coconut Bill; Mia Figlia; Little Black Bird; Nonna Rosa; Jimmy Rey; On Being Grand; Seven Claps; Cerebrau; 2 + 2 = 5.

Personnel: Joel Frahm: tenor and soprano saxophones; Adrean Farrugia: piano; Jon Maharaj: bass; Ernesto Cervini: drums.

Title: Little Black Bird | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Anzic Records


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