Paul Colombo Group: Rio Crystal

Dan McClenaghan By

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Paul Colombo Group: Rio Crystal
Paul Colombo's debut, Rio Crystal, comes about because his fellow guitarist, Pat Martino, released an album called Pat Martino/Live! (Muse Records, 1972). When Colombo heard Martino's sound, the then fifteen year old aspiring musician's path to jazz artistry came into focus.

The keyboardist on Martino's 1972 LP was Ron Thomas, who played Fender Rhodes on Pat Martino/Live! He went on to become an adventurous and artistically successful—if somewhat underrecognized—jazz (and beyond) player in his own right, with the terrific experimental recording Scenes From A Voyage To Arcturus (Vectordisc Records, 2001), a musical dive into David Lindsay's 1920 science fiction novel, and two of the new millennium's most beautifully progressive piano trio albums, Doloroso and Music In Three Parts, both released on Art Of Life Records in 2006.

Colombo and Thomas are both based in the Philadelphia area, so with Thomas' contributions to Martino's sound in mind, the guitarist sought out pianist/keyboardist for lessons. A fast forward finds the mentor Thomas sitting in, on synthesizer, with Colombo's trio, forming a quartet—a la Pat Martino-Live! —that explores Colombo's (mostly: more later) uniquely engaging originals.

It is unusual for a debut album to sound this assured, and to have such an unwavering cohesion of vision, in spite of a mix of stylistic offerings, including the gentle breeze, minor key Latin title tune that opens the set; the jaunty, playful "This Heart;" the fusion-esque "Junior;" and the pop-ish "Lovesick" (not the Bob Dylan tune of the same name).

The atmospheric band sound comes from a collective approach—Colombo's and Thomas' solos are succinct, their interplay is as polished as can be, the production and overall soundscaping reminiscent, in its pared down way, of guitarist George Benson's White Rabbit (CTI Records, 1972), that teamed Benson with keyboardist Herbie Hancock. Unlike White Rabbit, Rio Crystal lacks the lush Don Sebesky brass and woodwind arrangements, boasting instead Ron Thomas' deceptively complex keyboard orchestrations that are every bit as successful as Sebesky's work in fleshing out, modernizing, augmenting and sweetening the harmonic backdrops.

The disc's only non-Colombo original, "Motion Potion," comes from Thomas' pen, and features the angular rhythmic bustle of Chris Lōser's drums and Andy Alonso's driving bass lines, while Thomas and Colombo craft a sound that is funky and "out there" at the same time.

Rio Crystal gives guitarist Paul Colombo claims on 2021's "Very Promising Debut" and "Artist To Keep An Ear On" categories.

Track Listing

Rio Crystal; This Heart; Junior; Lovesick; Motion Potion; Wakin' Up; YBB; Soul Mates.


Paul Colombo: guitar, electric; Ron Thomas: piano; Andy Alonso: bass; Chris Lōser: drums.

Additional Instrumentation

Ron Thomas: keyboards.

Album information

Title: Rio Crystal | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Vectordisc Records

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