Saturday, July 07, 2018

Michael Musillami Trio + 2 - Life Anthem (Playscape, 2018)

Guitarist Michael Musillami survived a serious health crisis recently, and that experience has informed his most recent work, where he adds two talented guests to his already potent and road tested trio. He writes honest and compelling music and the act of composing and improvising seems to be a healing one, using the skills he's developed over the course of decades as a jazz musician to adapt to his changing circumstances. He's gathered a cracking band featuring his regular trio mates Joe Fonda on bass and George Schuller on drums, while adding Kirk Knuffke on cornet and Jason Robinson on tenor and soprano saxophone and alto flute. "MRI Countdown" is a crisp and urgent performance, with riffing horns and harmonizing guitar setting the pace with a complex melody, and the band is more than up to the task with excellent interplay. The leader solos in opposition to the horns, keeping the momentum of the piece going before breaking free to play with thick bass and subtle percussion. His solo is knotty and complicated, and the band supports him fully, especially through an energetic saxophone counter solo which runs throughout this excellent track. Paying tribute to his physician, "Dr. Mohamad Khaled, Neurosurgeon" has a strong and vital approach, with brisk percussion and tenor saxophone setting a compelling improvised opening that lays the groundwork for the entry of the remainder of the band. Knuffke's cornet is well suited for this format and his solo over bass and drums is fresh and invigorating. The music alternates between lengthy exploratory performances like "Visions" where the music gradually evolves through several sections of composed and improvised areas, coming together for an excellent collective improvisation that shows the strength and experience of the band. There are also shorter pieces like the sparkling "Think of Something Beautiful" and the closing "Life Anthem (Full Ensemble) which work well as short concentrated bursts of sound. Michael Musillami's music is a treasure, and we are fortunate that he came through his recent crisis unscathed. This music for his trio plus two is very well composed and arranged, allowing a solid framework for the music while encouraging adventurous ensemble playing and soloing. Life Anthem - amazon.com

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