With the release of Quartet Plus, San Francisco Bay Area-based jazzman Mason Razavi joins ranks with a talented crop of guitarists spearheaded by Hristo Vitchev on First Orbit Sounds. His debut for the label fronts all-original compositions and contextualizes his tactile playing in a plush band setting.
Half of the album features Razavi in quartet with Bennett Roth-Newell on piano and keyboards, Dan Robbins on bass, and Cody Rhodes on drums. Together they take on the night with thoughtful tunes that highlight Razavi's eclectic background in rock, jazz, and classical. "Highrise" and "From Thoughts To Words" offer intelligent takes on the smooth jazz idiom. In the first, the rhythm section hits green lights at every intersection, while Razavi's electric flits from supportive chord voicings to lyrical soloing without so much as the bat of an eyelash. The second is dreamier. In it Robbins and Razavi follow natural progressions of hills and riverbeds in singsong monologues. For contrast, look no further than backbeat-driven "Urban Jungle Blues," sparkling pianism and all. Further down the line is "Song For Another Day," which from dark beginnings unravels the album's most delicate expositions.
The album's titular "Plus" comes in the form of a five-horn section augmenting the quartet for the four remaining tunes, shuffled into the above. Despite verging on big band, their compass follows a decidedly intimate magnetic north, yielding an even wider range of moods. The documentarian "Prayer For Newtown" turns tragedy into song. It lends a feeling of community by way of the denser arrangement and foils the joyous undercurrents of "Luck Has Nothing To Do With It." Razavi is the prime number in this anthem of recovery, finding unique solutions to melodic equations. Altoist Ben Torres cuts in with the album's only reed solo. Fluid yet geometrically soulful, he paves a robust detour toward the airbrushed ending. Last is the 13-minute "Mad Dance," which leads the way in groove and shows Robbins at his most acrobatic, complementing Razavi's picking every step of the way for an inventive finish.
Evocative storytelling (of which opener "Moonlit Message" is a prime example) is the hallmark of Razavi's music. So evocative, in fact, that one hardly needs individual track titles to suggest appropriate interpretations. Whether in the freshly squeezed quartet outings or the concentrate of the larger ensemble, their flavor is sweet just the same. Quartet Plus proves that, when it comes to jazz, one really can have the best of both worlds.
Moonlit Message; Highrise; From Thoughts To Words; Urban Jungle Blues; Prayer For
Newtown; Luck Has Nothing To Do With It; Song For Another Day; Mad Dance.
Mason Razavi: electric and nylon string guitars; Bennett Roth-Newell: piano and keyboards;
Dan Robbins: bass; Cody Rhodes: drums; Justin Smith: trumpet and flugelhorn; Ben Torres:
alto sax, flute, and clarinet; Oscar Pangilinan: tenor sax and clarinet; Kevin Bryson: trombone;
Cory Wright: baritone sax, clarinet, and bass clarinet.