Spirited improvisation marks the offering of soprano saxophonist Joe Giardullo and his quartet on Now Is. Master brass and reed authority Joe McPhee is on board, as is stellar bassist Mike Bisio and fiery drummer Toni Tabbal. Together, the four artists stretch it out in free time with music that provides a kick through its high energy level and intermittent mood swings.
The program crosses through various tempo changes, yet the concept of perpetual motion remains prevalent throughout. Individual solos meld into multifaceted ensemble sections where each musician has the latitude to create a new vision. All the tunes are the result of spontaneous group participation. The program flows as one long, uninterrupted journey into the land of discovery, although there are seven titles reflecting alterations in group configuration or mindset.
Giardullo is in an adventurous mode for this date. He takes his soprano saxophone on a wild chase through a maze of intricacies that always resolve logically. Giardullo’s tone compared to McPhee’s on soprano is very distinguishable. McPhee’s sound is soulful, while Giardullo’s is gleeful.
When not playing soprano saxophone, McPhee concentrates on pocket trumpet or flugelhorn. He swirls through his brass improvisations with a jaunty stride in his step. McPhee’s opening run on “SCINT” starts a horserace that finds Giardullo joining the merry chase. When they combine efforts, the temperature rises significantly in joyous celebration of this creative art.
Tabbal assumes the role of a dynamo with this band. He pushes consistently and motivates the others to reach their full potential. Bisio likewise charges forward, although he shows his sensitive side on “O.A.O.L.” with a heartfelt arco solo. This brings Giardullo into the same reverent sphere along with Tabbal. Although the pace is slower, the same level of dynamic interchange and complexity exists.
“Spring Theory” initially takes a somewhat passive stance, with both Giardullo and McPhee musing pensively until Tabbal and Bisio light a fire to thrust the band into a swirling vortex of communal sound. The set closes with a duet between McPhee and Tabbal. Ritualistic rhythms guide McPhee on flugelhorn as the two trod on hallowed ground.
This recording presents four top-shelf artists in an open arena where creativity is the only ground rule. The level of playing is off the chart, and the music becomes a bountiful theater of satisfaction.