Italian-born pianist Roberto Magris likes to change things up. He can be seen and heard leading groups from trio to octet and beyond, and meshing quite comfortably into groups of all shapes and sizes. On Sun Stone, his fifteenth recording for JMood Records, Magris fronts an admirable sextet whose front-line includes the venerable Ira Sullivan on flute, soprano and alto saxophones, and the superb tenor saxophonist Mark Colby, abetted by trumpeter Shareef Clayton, bassist Jamie Ousley and drummer Roldolfo Zuniga.
On paper, that seems a sure-fire recipe for runaway success. And, in the studio, it tries hard to reach that rarefied plateau but doesn't quite make it. That's not meant to impugn the musicians who certainly do their part, embracing Magris' by and large amiable charts (he wrote six of the album's seven numbers) with astuteness and enthusiasm. The weak point, if indeed it can be labeled as such, lies elsewhere. In brief, Magris' piano, impressive as it is, has been placed too far forward in the mix, causing him, through no fault of his own, to overshadow his teammates when they are soloing while minimizing the warmth and delicacy that ordinarily underline his own resourceful improvisations.
The imbalance is most conspicuous on the lengthy versions of "Sun Stone" which open and close the studio date, as well as on "Look at the Stars," a straightforward swinger that features Sullivan on soprano after an extended intro by an over-amped Magris and the rhythm section. It is within earshot, albeit less disquieting, elsewhere as the sextet sails through three more of Magris' reliable themes ("Planet of Love," "Maliblues" and "Beauty Is Forever," the last a lyrical quasi-ballad showcasing Colby's elegant Getz-influenced tenor). "Innamorati a Milano," a well-known Italian pop song from the '60s, completes the program.
Truth be told, "Sun Stone" (both versions) is arguably the least engaging item on the menu, for the most part randomly winding forward while missing the mark when it comes to bringing out the best in Magris or his colleagues who are much better served by the other more-flavorful entrees. "Innamorati a Milano" is a good example, arriving as a breath of fresh air on the heels of the opening "Sun Stone." "Planet of Love," with Sullivan on flute, is another winner, as are the Latin-centered "Maliblues" and "Beauty Is Forever." In sum, a generally respectable session impaired to some degree by sonic shortcomings which other listeners may find far less disconcerting.
Sun Stone; Innamorati a Milano; Planet of Love; Maliblues; Beauty Is Forever; Look at the Stars; Sun Stone II.
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