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Alto saxophonist Matt Criscuolo's sound strikes me as quite distinctive on his second release, Lotus Blossom. The opening title tune is Billy Strayhorn's lovely, wistful composition, featuring Criscuolo dueting with pianist Larry Willis. The altoist's tone has a tart tang, like a drink of lemonade a wee bit shortbracingly soon the sugar. The underrated veteran saxman Frank Morgan comes to mind in terms of tone, as well as in terms of attitude, with an energetic, fresh-sounding bop mood as the band comes in on the pianist's "The Wisdom Prize."
Criscuolo steals a page from the Sonny Rollins playbook with his use of trombonist Steve Davis as a frontline partner, giving the harmonies a rich, full sound. Several cuts feature a Latin vibe with the inclusion of Ray Mantilla's tasteful percussion. Wayne Shorter's "The Big Push" gets into a late '60s Blue Note groove. with the alto/trombone teaming sounding marvelous before Criscuolo soars off on a stinging, yet fluid solo.
Pianist Larry Willis brings a garrulously elegant accompanist's style to the proceedings, a distinctive voice in his own right, and he solos with a joyous verve.
Three tunes are Criscuolo-penned. He proves himself a mature songwriter, an artist with a finely focused vision, which is rare for someone on just his second recording. That vision carries through the entire set. One highlight is the Criscuolo-penned "Julian's Pencil," a stretched-out, churning, free-flowing romp full of lively soloing.
An excellent straight-ahead set with a progressive feeling.