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Denis DiBlasio Quintet: Where the Jade Buddha Lives

Dan McClenaghan By

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As a former member/musical director of trumpeter Maynard Ferguson's band, baritone saxophonist Denis DiBlasio is certainly no stranger to mapping out music and following charts. But he also has an adventurous streak, one in which the slightest of frameworks is laid down—maybe just a mood suggested or, perhaps even, a single note brought up as the basis for a mood—and the musicians are allowed free reign within these loose architectures.

Of course the right musicians need to be picked; and for Where the Jade Buddha Lives, Diblasio has rounded up a stellar rhythm section headed by pianist Ron Thomas—the piano trio responsible for the superb Music in Three Parts (Art of Life, 2006). They are a flexible and highly interactive crew that combines a feeling for freedom with an unerring instinct for ethereal beauty. Drummer Joe Mullen and bassist Paul Klinefelter are leaders in their own right; having played extensively with Thomas, the familiarity and telepathy show.

Opening with "Distressing Disguise," DiBlasio and his front line partner, trombonist Jim McFalls, ride a fluid forward momentum with some smooth unison blowing, leading into McFall's smooth-as-butter solo. Thomas follows the melody in a reactive mode, like a slow motion jazz version of the playground game crack-the-whip. Here, and throughout the set, spontaneity is the name of the game; these in-the-moment songs—points of view upon which the band members improvise—can't have been rehearsed a lot, and the music has a freshness for it.

"Buonarroti's Ceiling" is a meditative exploration of the mood brought on by an encounter with the Sistine Chapel, conveying a sense of awe and wonder. DiBlasio's solo ruminates in a cool tone, while Thomas and Klinefelter delve into a deeply reverent conversation, with Mullen whispering in the background.

On Rimsky Korsakov's "Song of India"—the only non-original on the set and featuring some magical piano/flute interplay, with DiBlasio switching from baritone sax to bass flute. The title tune, inspired by DiBlasio's visit to Thailand with the Maynard Ferguson Band, has a feeling of subdued, stealthy grandeur, with a tranquil Eastern tinge.

For the closing "The Long Goodbye," DiBlasio suggests the note F to the group: not the key of F, but the note. The result is a ballad that blossoms patiently and beautifully, with Thomas sprinkling raindrops on the petals of McFall's stretched-out trombone notes. A gorgeous goodbye.

Track Listing: Distressing Disguises; Buonarroti's Ceiling; Teach Me I Dare You; Baby Dom; Song of India; The Truth Will Out; Where the Jade Budhha Lives; The Puppy's Not Cute Anymore; The Long Goodbye.

Personnel: Denis DiBlasio: baritone saxophone, bass flute; Paul Klinefelter: acoustic bass; Jim McFalls: trombone; Joe Mullen: drums; Ron Thomas: piano.

Title: Where the Jade Buddha Lives | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Art of Life Records

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