Nick Lombardelli's debut recording as a leader heralds the arrival of a prodigious composer, arranger and instrumentalist. Secret Suite is a five-part work that deftly fuses composed material and the improvisations of nearly everyone in an eight-piece band, including drummer Matt Scarano who initiates "Solid Ground" and caps off "A New View," the suite's final movement.
Utilizing jazz and classical techniques, Lombardelli writes vivid melodies that evoke a variety of moods, often stretches his compositions beyond easily recognizable forms, includes swing, Latin and straight rhythm feels, incorporates changes in tempos and dynamic levels and, most importantly, ties the elements of each part of the suite together into a splendid whole. He has a penchant for recasting themes in imaginative ways, offering something familiar to hang onto amidst fluctuations in the music. Even when he throws you a curveball (for instance, a relatively brief horn section free-for-all inserted between soloists on "The Estrangement Saga") Lombardelli always finds a way to bring things back to firm ground.
The horn players employ an array of instrumentsranging from the leader's tuba (his primary horn on the album is trombone) to Jack Saint Clair's alto flute (his primary axe is tenor saxophone)that contribute to a broad range of timbres. Sometimes, the soloistsfor instance, Joe Anderson's trumpet on "The Estrangement Saga" and Lombardelli's trombone on "The Straggler"are left to their own devices with the encouragement of a robust rhythm section comprised of pianist Timothy Brey, bassist Mike Boone and Scarano. In other instances, the leader's written material provides soloists with varying degrees of stimulation, yet one never takes precedence over the other. One stunning example is the development of themes from the head of "Lost Track," which continue for the duration of Boone's and Lombardelli's improvisations. In particular, there's something special about the manner in which the horns manage to say their piece without impinging upon the bassist.
While Lombardelli's writing and musicianship are the primary reasons to celebrate Secret Suite and eagerly anticipate a chordless ensemble project that is in the works, the record also encourages interest in the future activities of every member of the largely youthful ensemble.
The Estrangement Saga; The Straggler; Solid Ground; Lost Track; A New View.