281

Michael Musillami: Old Tea

Troy Collins By

Sign in to view read count
Michael Musillami: Old Tea
In March 2009, guitarist Michael Musillami's son, Evan, took his own life at the age of 29. During the months that followed, Musillami composed a book of tunes inspired by and dedicated to Evan, which make up Old Tea, the fifth release from his veteran trio. Named after Lao Cha, a rare form of Taiwanese Oolong, Old Tea refers to a pastime Musillami and his son often enjoyed together—sharing a good cup of tea. Aided by the empathetic contributions of his venerable sidemen, bassist Joe Fonda and drummer George Schuller, Musillami celebrates Evan's life on this vivacious session, avoiding maudlin sentiment.

Each piece on the album is titled after and inspired by specific memories of his son and/or events experienced by his family during their grieving process. Expressing his emotions in music beyond words, Musillami plays with a concentrated intensity that is unassailable. While Musillami has long avoided needless EFX, he occasionally revisits the distorted tone he used briefly on his last record, From Seeds (Playscape, 2009), using it to convey an array of extreme tonalities.

Musillami employs such devices more effectively and economically than most guitarists, understanding the dramatic value of restraint. The title track is indicative, as Musillami suddenly interrupts the tune's dreamy panorama with a searing volley of anguished tones and epic arpeggios. His dark, blues-inflected attack on the angular funk of "King Alok" is especially ardent, as he dives into careening salvos of staccato notes with focused conviction.

The process of grieving encompasses a variety of emotions, and these cathartic outpourings are counterbalanced by poetic works of understated introspection and lilting swing. The sublime tone poems "Kitchen Tribute (Collective Interlude)" and "Evy-Boy" are prime examples of the trio's congenial rapport and sensitive interplay. The dulcet closer, "Three Hundred Plus" demonstrates their dynamic range with a flute driven ballad that is as serene as the aforementioned "King Alok" is volatile.

Even though Musillami's angular writing can be quite intricate (as on the labyrinthine "A True Original"), his compositions always retain a sense of accessibility—balancing coiled phrases, oblique intervals, and unorthodox meters with a bluesy character. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the blues play a far more significant role here than many of Musillami's previous releases. His tortuous solos on "A True Original" and "Umbrella Top...That's How I Roll" are exemplary, rooted in a pentatonic straightforwardness that is far more lyrical than his usual intervallic approach.

As a tradition built upon lamentation and perseverance, there is hardly a better form to memorialize a lost loved one than the blues. Despite the tragic circumstances surrounding its conception, Old Tea, a heartfelt and poignant work, stands tall in Musillami's discography.

Track Listing

Introduction; Old Tea; Shiner At Rocky's; The Binary Smirk (Drum Interlude); King Alok; Kitchen Tribute (Collective Interlude); Evy-Boy; A True Original; Jameson #30 (Bass Interlude); Umbrella Top...That's How I Roll; Three Hundred Plus.

Personnel

Michael Musillami: guitar; Joe Fonda: bass and flute; George Schuller: drums.

Album information

Title: Old Tea | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Playscape Recordings

Post a comment about this album

Tags

Shop Amazon

More

Read The Rise Up
The Rise Up
Mehmet Ali Sanlikol
Read New York Moment
New York Moment
JC Hopkins Biggish Band
Read Pollinator
Pollinator
Matt Ulery
Read Hug!
Hug!
Matt Wilson Quartet
Read Touch & Go
Touch & Go
Susan Tobocman
Read The Ilkley Suite
The Ilkley Suite
Jamil Sheriff
Read Moving Through Worlds
Moving Through Worlds
Fiona Joy Hawkins

All About Jazz needs your support

Donate
All About Jazz & Jazz Near You were built to promote jazz music: both recorded and live events. We rely primarily on venues, festivals and musicians to promote their events through our platform. With club closures, shelter in place and an uncertain future, we've pivoted our platform to collect, promote and broadcast livestream concerts to support our jazz musician friends. This is a significant but neccesary effort that will help musicians now, and in the future. You can help offset the cost of this essential undertaking by making a donation today. In return, we'll deliver an ad-free experience (which includes hiding the bottom right video ad). Thank you.

Get more of a good thing

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories and includes your local jazz events calendar.