The "plus" in San Francisco Bay area-based guitarist Mason Razavi's CD Quartet Plus, Volume 2 is a front line consisting of trumpet, trombone and three reeds, which on the second half of the album more than doubles the size of Razavi's quartet. There are many ways that could be done. For example, the nonet tracks might have been interspersed at random, placed ahead of the quartet tracks, replaced the quartet on odd-or even-numbered tracks and so on. But this is the sequence Razavi has chosen, and it's his album.
One advantage of the positioning is that it lends the impression of two albums in one, the first an amiable post-bop quartet session, the second a well-spoken mini-big band accompanied by a four-piece rhythm section. Perhaps that is what Razavi had in mind. In any case it seems to work well, thanks in large measure to Razavi's engaging compositions and arrangements (he arranged every number and wrote all save the robust finale, Juan Tizol's well-traveled "Caravan"). It also shows Razavi's versatility, as writing for a nonet is rather far removed from writing for a quartet, and he manages both assignments quite well.
Razavi's fretwork is similarly proficient, consisting for the most part (solo-wise) of scrupulous single-note runs whose goal is deliver an astute and expressive payload. His teammates are coactive in every respect, and pianist Bennett Roth-Newell is another strong soloist in the manner of a Tamir Hendelman (a mainspring in the superb Jeff Hamilton Trio), Kenny Barron or Christian Jacob. Dan Robbins is splendid on acoustic or electric bass, drummer Cody Rhodes likewise with brushes or sticks. The menu includes a "Blues (in New Hues)," a "(Blue and Grey) Waltz" and a pair of flag-wavers, "Grvunkabop" and "Caravan," plus a handsome "Portrait for Mingus," the last three performed by the nonet, which is also heard on two of Razavi's exquisite themes, "When the Ink Ran Dry" and "Through the Fog."
Add flashy solos by trumpeter Justin Smith, soprano / tenor Oscar Pangilinan, alto Ben Torres, baritone Alex Murzyn and trombonist Kevin Bryson, and the upshot is a smooth-sailing quartet / nonet studio date that never runs aground. Assuming there is a Volume 1 (the evidence for that is rather elusive), it would be helpful to check that one out for comparison's sake.
Riverbed; Blues in New Hues; Looking Forward, Looking Back; Blue and Grey Waltz; With the Wind at My Back; When the
Ink Ran Dry; Grvünkabop; Portrait for Mingus; Through the Fog; Caravan.
Quartet (Tracks 1-5) —Mason Razavi: guitar; Bennett Roth-Newell: piano, keyboards; Dan Robbins: acoustic
and electric basses; Cody Rhodes: drums. Quartet Plus (Tracks 6-10) —Justin Smith: trumpet, flugehorn; Ben
Torres: alto sax, clarinet; Oscar Pangilinan: tenor and soprano saxes, clarinet; Kevin Bryson: trombone; Alex Murzyn:
baritone sax, clarinet, bass clarinet.
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