Drummer Tony Martucci is the kind of musician who sneaks up on you. With the effortlessness of a Paul Motian, he is just as comfortable playing around the beat as he is swinging it hard, balancing those two dynamics as he does with rare intuition. And in the expansive soundscape of his quintetwhich finds him in the company of tenor saxophonists Jeff Antoniuk and Luis Hernandez, guitarist John Lee, and bassist Tom Baldwinhe shuffles light and dark with a card shark's intuition. Cushioned in the richly upholstered seating of An die Musik LIVE!, Baltimore's hippest jazz venue, it was easy to bask in the flurry of cymbals that opened the bandleader's "Il Figlio Dello Scarpaio." This rubato introduction paved a shimmering platform for the band, giving way to a complementary round of solos before closing in a gentle tinkling of bells.
Each musician was a revelation in his own right. In addition to being a killer tenorist, Antoniuk was the formidable composer of "30/31," which had every bit as much heat and feel for groove as Dave Holland at his finest. As for his sound, Antoniuk leaned toward a more classic treatment, intent on unpacking one idea at a time. Hernandez, meanwhile, took an edgier, more overtly virtuosic stance on the soloist's art, but did so with taste and democratic flair. His snaking conversations with Antoniuk in Lee's "For Carly" were especially moving as the band navigated downtempo currents. The guitarist's underwater effect unleashed a varied and evocative prosody.
Yet perhaps the brightest star of the evening was Baldwin. Not simply for contributing two tunesthe fully activated "Diplomacy" and the funkier "Writes Left Rides Right"but also for bringing a chameleonic feel for harmony that was glue to his bandmates' constructions. Whether playing as one voice with Martucci's pearl-white Gretsch kit or laying down a more independent bop line, his precise intonation and no-frills fingering gave plenty of foundation for artful exchanges and crafted big shoes indeed, filled ecstatically by the strength of Antoniuk's leapfrogging, Hernandez's high dives, and Lee's psychedelic streams of consciousness. All of which came to a head as Martucci held the stage by himself for a spell. In that solo was all the concentrate of his band, expanded into full-blown juice by the added water of synergy.
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