Even though drummer Idris Muhammad may be the only member of the group to elicit nods of recognition here in the States, Italian pianist Roberto Magris' quintet is world-class in every respect, consistently affirming its singular prowess on Mating Call, the second release from Paul Collins' Kansas City-based J-Mood Records. Magris also headlined the label's initial recording, presiding over a quartet (including the late bassist Art Davis) on Kansas City Outbound in 2007.
Three of the album's seven engaging numbers ("Optional Man," "Hill of Illusions," "Europlane Blues") were written by Magris, who arranged the others as well. It's safe to say that J.J. Johnson's plaintive "Lament" has seldom sounded better, converted by Magris from ballad to medium-tempo swinger with a Latin substructure. The ballad "Theme for Ernie" was written by Fred Lacey, the exotic "Mating Call" by Tadd Dameron for a 1956 Prestige Records session with John Coltrane. As a pièce de résistance, Magris plays tasteful solo piano on the exquisite finale, Leonard Bernstein's "Lonely Town," from the Broadway musical On the Town.
"Theme for Ernie" showcases one of the group's two admirable horns, tenor saxophonist Michael O'Neill, and adds another eloquent solo by Magris. Paul Carr plays soprano sax on the lyrical opener, "Optional Man," and "Hill of Illusions," tenor the rest of the way, showing remarkable proficiency on either instrument, while bassist Elisa Pruett is a paragon of strength and stability. If musical excellence is more important to you than names, check out the Roberto Magris Quintet. Chances are you'll be pleasantly surprised.
Optional Man; Hill of Illusion; Lament; Theme For Ernie; Mating Call; Europlane Blues; Lonely Town.
Roberto Magris: piano, electric piano; Paul Carr: soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone; Michael O'Neill: tenor saxophone; Elisa Pruett: acoustic bass; Idris Muhammad: drums.