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Rosario Giuliani: More Than Ever

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There's such an abundance nowadays of great American alto players that it is easy, perhaps, to overlook an Italian player like Rosario Giuliani. The unevenness of his discography hasn't helped either. There's nothing uneven, however, about More Than Ever, as bracing a session of post-bop acoustic jazz as you're likely to hear this year. Giuliani's supported here by bassist Rémi Vignolo, drummer Benjamin Henocq, and either accordionist Richard Galliano or pianist Jean-Michel Pilc. (The latter two both play on the tension-charged, tango-inflected "I Remember Astor, and both lay out on the sax epic "Suite et Poursuite I, II, III and the what-if-Sonny-Rollins-played-alto scorcher "London By Night. )

Giuliani wrote all but three of these tunes (Pilc and Galliano composed the rest), and while there is, to say the least, plenty of room here to blow, these are not generic sets of changes. They're quite memorable and consistently European in their decidedly unhip devotion to lush, unambiguous melody. That said, "Monsieur Martin —to cite this sparse ballad as an example—owes a great deal to John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner in the way Pilc's uncluttered notes wrap themselves around Giuliani's keening, emotionally raw choruses.

The album's title cut embodies all the qualities that make this recording so fine. It may sound trite to say this band sounds almost startlingly eager to play, but listen to the song: the eagerness is palpable. The tune itself is a Giuliani original that sounds like a standard—which is to say that it's so melodically and elegantly memorable that one feels one's heard it before. Stylistically, one has; no one's inventing anything brand new here, but Vignolo's limber bass and Henocq's crisp, vital drumming imbue the song with a sweet, yearning swing. Giuliani simply burns through the changes with his romantic, bighearted tone. There's a complete absence of cynicism in his playing, however harmonically advanced it may be. And, of course, one can only savor his trademark, measure-spanning legato lines. Pilc rivals the leader on his own sparkling solo—and whether he's comping alongside his bandmates or accompanying his own solo phrases on this or any of the other tunes on which he plays, his left-hand chords are always fresh and creative.

The slow ballad "Dream House may lend a programmatic predictability to the set, but Galliano's deeply chromatic accordion adds a new flavor that redeems it and renders it unique. His solo seems constructed from equal parts French musette and more daring jazz sensibilities—indeed, his overall presence gives the music a European earthiness and warmth that underline and enhance the same qualities in the leader's playing.

I'll step out on a limb here and declare that More Than Ever is the best album Giuliani's done so far. Its musical combination of European romanticism and American jazz rigor—coupled with this group's enthusiasm and vitality—make this disc very much worth hearing. It decisively proves that Rosario Giuliani's no up-and-comer; he has arrived.

Track Listing: More Than Ever; Seven Thoughts; Dream House; I Remember Astor; J.F.; Mr. R.G.; Suite et Poursuite I, II, III; Monsieur Martin; London by Night 10. Bianco e Nero.

Personnel: Rosario Giuliani: alto and soprano saxophone; R

Title: More Than Ever | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Dreyfus Records

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