Since 2016 SteepleChase Records has released five discs by alto saxophonist Andy Fusco. This impressive, often stunning body of work goes a long way in raising the profile of a man who had seldom been given the opportunity to record under his own name. While Fusco leads the sessions, he's the antithesis of a star or domineering force. Aside from his prowess on the horn, he possesses an unusual talent for putting together bands of uniquely talented individuals and choosing material (jazz standards, items from the Great American Songbook, and some original compositions) that plays to their strengths. Fusco's cohorts exude the experience and wisdom of decades of toil in various corners of the jazz mainstream and evince an enthusiasm that belies the slings and arrows of the business. They never coast, take anything for granted or get too comfortable.
Remembrance possesses the strengths that one has come to expect from Fusco's records: Chemistry between individual players and a willingness to challenge one another; equal emphasis on the execution of the heads and interaction between the soloists and rhythm section; plus an abundance of attention grabbing details in the midst of cogent tracks.
Fusco's improvisations possess the flair and moxie of a seasoned bebopper, but there's more at play than any homage to Charlie Parker or his descendants. His calling card is a tone that brays, pleads and cajoles. Fusco tends to forsake long, verbose runs in favor of relatively concise phrasing. He has an interesting way of managing up-tempo material that leaves a bit of space between groups of notes. During portions of "Limehouse Blues" and "Navan's Apple," while pianist Peter Zak, bassist David Wong, and drummer Jason Tiemann sustain a brisk pace, he gives the impression of repeatedly grabbing hold of something and then abruptly pushing it away. Fusco is equally convincing on "Good Morning Heartache," "I'm A Fool To Want You," and the title track by taking some of the edge off his tone and transforming into a forthright, heart on his sleeve balladeer. In particular, a treatment of the melody of "Good Morning Heartache" serves as a reminder of the connection between experience and the sound of conviction and sincerity. His work on this track attains depth that cannot be attained during youthful years.
The wisdom and insight that often accompany maturity also applies to trumpeter Joe Magnarellia longtime Fusco associatewho completes the band's front line. He possesses a unique way of sustaining momentum that never turns brassy, forced or awkward, and allows glimpses of a sensitive, poetic side. On the medium-to-up tempo "It's A Blue World," amid the scratching and clawing of Tiemann's snare drum comping (think of Billy Higgins), Magnarelli integrates terse runs, brief pauses, mini-melodies, a quirky phrase or two, as well as shifts in emphasis that aren't always conspicuous. He makes this balancing act sound perfectly natural. It's gratifying to immerse oneself in the measured drive of Magnarelli's approach to a solo, and then return to consider the ways in which he manages the details.
As an ensemble player, accompanist for Fusco's and Magnarelli's solos as well as an improviser, pianist Peter Zak is in the middle of everything, yet doesn't mess with the band's equilibrium. He cleaves to Fusco during the melody of "I'm A Fool To Want You" without detracting from the saxophonist or the ballad flavor. A brief, blazing bebop introduction to "Limehouse Blues" sets the tone for the entire track. It's a kick to hear him spontaneously play back one of Fusco's solo phrasesin a flash, here and goneduring Magnarelli's "All American." Zak's combinations of single note lines and chords throughout two choruses leading to the head of "It's A Blue World" are judicious and playful.
Remembrance meets the criteria of an exceptional jazz recording: A bracing combination of material, ensemble work, rapport between improvisers and rhythm section, as well as soloists of an individualist bent who never forget that it's the music as a whole that really matters.
Conception; It's A Blue World; Good Morning Heartache; Tchau; Limehouse Blues; Remembrance; Blues For Bailey's;
All American; I'm A Fool To Want You; Navan's Apple.
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