On Night Music, his fourth album as leader of his own group, Rale Micic (pronounced Rah-lay Mee-cheech), a Serbian-born guitarist who has lived and gigged in New York City for more than fifteen years, pays tribute to the music of the Hungarian classical composer Bela Bartok who, as it turns out, spent his last years living in the same Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx, in upper Manhattan, where Micic has made his home for the past dozen years. Having learned of Bartok from his classical music-loving grandfather and studied the composer's string quartets in college, the coincidental fact that Bartok had once lived about two blocks from Micic's home in Riverdale was the tipping point that provided the impetus for this earnest homage.
Micic wrote eight of the album's eleven selections, Bartok the others ("Melody in a Mist" and acoustic and electric versions of his "Nocturne"). Its classical veneer, implicit and understated, lends an aura of sublimity to what is essentially a tasteful jazz recording by Micic and his dexterous teammates (pianist Danny Grissett, bassist Corcoran Holt, drummer Johnathan Blake) whose over-arching theme is night in all its essence as filtered through the senses of Micic and Bartok and paraphrased by the quartet. While Micic plays a key role, he shares much of the melodic and improvisational component with Grissett who is more than up to the task. The rhythm is in capable hands as well, with Holt and Blake taking firm command on the serpentine opener, "Hotel Insomnia," laying down a strong and insistent beat that counterbalances Micic's mellow guitar and Grissett's even-tempered Fender Rhodes.
"Jano," Micic's restatement of a traditional Serbian folk song, underscores the more temperate nature of the night, as does Bartok's "Melody in a Mist," which set the stage for the more vigorous, bop-centered "Late Call" and the enchanting ballad "Blue." Micic and Grissett are alone together on the brief "Nocturnes," the first acoustic, the second electric (a tantalizing contrast), which bookend the fast-paced title selection. "Afterparty," another easygoing essay, showcases Grissett's wah-wah pedal on the Fender Rhodes along with more stalwart rhythmic support from Holt and Blake, and the quartet wraps the session with the charming "Sunrise" and seductive waltz-time treatment of Micic's "Color of the Sun."
At its core, this is stylish, well-designed chamber jazz with an emphasis on sharp and perceptive interplay. The melodies are engaging, the rhythms well-matched, the solos sharp and burnished. The presumption here is that Bartok would have been delighted, and so might you.
Hotel Insomnia; Jano; Melody in a Mist; Late Call; Blue; Nocturne; Night Music; Nocturne (reprise); Afterparty; Sunrise; Color of the Sun.
Rale Micic: guitar; Danny Grissett: piano; Corcoran Holt: bass; Jonathan Blake: drums.