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Michael Musillami: Michael Musillami Trio with Mark Feldman: The Treatment

Troy Collins By

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Michael Musillami Trio with Mark Feldman
The Treatment
Playscape Recordings

The Treatment offers two views of the current incarnation of guitarist Michael Musillami's working group by bundling a studio recording with live performance video. Violinist Mark Feldman was invited by Musillami to join his long-standing trio with bassist Joe Fonda and drummer George Schuller for these sessions. The augmented quartet is heard in the studio on the CD, while the added DVD documents a live performance taped three days earlier in Connecticut, at Lakeville's Hotchkiss School, where Musillami is Director of Jazz Studies.

Feldman, the most in-demand violinist of contemporary creative improvised music, fits in seamlessly with Musillami's veteran trio. While instrumentally similar to guitarist John Abercrombie's quartet (which also features Feldman), Musillami's methodology is more heavily rooted in classic jazz foundations, rather than the chamber-like aesthetic pioneered by Abercrombie's groups.

A traditionalist at heart, Musillami eschews excessive EFX, favoring a timeless sound. His hollow-body electric reveals a clean, warm tone bolstered by protracted, serpentine cadences of surprising lyricism. Feldman's knack for soaring melodic improvisation makes him a perfect foil for Musillami's exploratory flights. Since Beijing (Playscape,2003), Fonda and Schuller have been demonstrating their conversational repartee as Musillami's primary touring ensemble.

With a penchant for penning tricky, memorable melodies of unconventional beauty, Musillami's compositions are intricate, yet lyrically direct and forthright in an age dominated by extremes of sound and concept. Musillami and company build their thematic statements organically, from the ground up, arriving at abstraction through considered modulations in melody, rhythm and harmony.

Whether summoning animated swing, tense angularity or exotic atmosphere, the quartet plies these elastic structures with a sense of spirited interplay balanced by graceful restraint. The studio sessions capture the group at their most focused, trading melodic fragments and crisp rhythmic inflections with telepathic ease.

The majority of the tunes employ brisk, swinging post-bop rhythms suffused with buoyant kernels of melody, tempered with hard angles and knotty charts, but on the sole ballad, the optimistic "Stark Beauty," Musillami and Feldman unveil ribbons of ebullient lyricism with their subdued, mellifluous statements.

The jaunty "Brooms" bristles with shifting dynamics from the rhythm section while Feldman and Musillami unfurl labyrinthine solos of almost Baroque intensity. The snappy polyrhythmic bounce of the title track and the locomotive momentum of "Mezz Money" share a similar energy with the pensive, angular funk of "Human Conditions," which climaxes with a stirring arco solo from Fonda.

Building gradually from introspective beginnings, "Beijing To Brooklyn" blossoms into a dramatic showcase for Feldman's virtuosic violin as he wrings endless variations from the insistent modal theme. Schuller pilots a Tony Williams-inspired four-on-the-floor vamp fueled by Fonda and Musillami's driving ostinati.

Live, the augmented trio presents vivacious performances of three tunes from the studio album. "Human Conditions," "The Treatment" and "Brooms" are given extended work-outs with ample solo space for all. Shot with multiple high definition cameras, the DVD provides a snapshot of adventurous music rarely captured so well. Seeing musicians of this caliber in action makes apparent how intricate the ensemble charts are and how intuitive their level of interaction truly is.

Energized in this live setting, Feldman pulls out all the stops on "Human Conditions," delivering a searing violin solo of epic proportions before Musillami and Schuller lock horns in a fire-spitting duel. The dynamic title track is given a far more rambunctious read than the studio version. Featuring Musillami's most explosively frenetic playing of the session, the tune closes with a marvel of melodic improvisation from Schuller. The kaleidoscopic head melody of "Brooms" makes way for a free-flowing rubato structure that culminates in a bass solo from Fonda bowing simultaneous arco harmonics from opposing ends of his instrument. Musillami's final solo takes the tune out with a machine-gun volley of staccato notes, proving that a career in academia hasn't mellowed him one bit.

The Treatment represents an intensely rewarding and conceptually promising avenue for the future of jazz that is accessible and exploratory in equal measure.

Visit Michael Musillami on the web.

Tracks: CD: Brooms; The Treatment; Stark Beauty; Human Conditions; Mezz Money; Beijing To Brooklyn. DVD: Human Conditions; The Treatment; Brooms.

Personnel: Michael Musillami: guitar, composer; Mark Feldman: violin; Joe Fonda: bass; George Schuller: drums.

Production Notes: Audio CD recorded at Systems Two, Brooklyn, NY May 6, 2007. Performance DVD recorded live May 3, 2007 at Katherine M. Elfers Hall, Lakeville, CT.


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