In the raft of populist jazz fusion made by contemporary electric guitarists, everyone should be thankful there is Michael Musillami. Moving further into the realm of truly original modern creative music, he continues to assert himself not only as a very competent performer, but especially as one of the most innovative composers on the scene. He is usually backed by small ensembles of great musicians who are very capable of propagating his basic precepts into expanded horizons of quirky, intriguing, and intricately woven jazz fibers. Longtime bandmates bassist Joe Fonda and drummer George Schuller are here again for this, Musillami's 12th CD, with additional support from veterans like alto saxophonist Marty Ehrlich, trumpeter Ralph Alessi, and rising star vibraphonist Matt Moran.
This sextet is potent, equally as able to turn on a dime, ride with the wind, or hop aboard a freight train of steaming power and perseverance.
The pieces also have clever titles -- "Splayed Fingers," for example, uses various separated segments, from walking jazz to Thelonious Monk phraseology sped up, laid out sideways, oriented in the blues, slowed as if drunk, displayed via free-time guitar, and capped by Moran's swinging solo. "Wisteria Hysteria Blues" is not so much manic as it is a slinky theme that blossoms into a deliberate stride with all instruments tromping in line like a phalanx. The complex bop "Bill Barron," for the influential educator and saxophonist, reflects his angular hard bop aesthetic, while a march into scattershot melody on "Ga-Ga-Goosebumps" (love that title!) bounces off the walls in funky symmetry with a hip and heavy midsection. Ehrlich and Alessi constantly prove to be the best improvisers on their instruments, consistently reaching fresh harmonies and nuances that rise above their peer group, while Moran is making his voice heard in a positive new direction post-Gary Burton. Writers who use lead pencils and erasers, as well as listeners, can easily relate to the CD's highlight, "Graphite," a fluid, cursive discourse, at first slow and pensive, then stretched out. This literary-inspired chapter and verse are translated to music through waltz swing punctuated by spiky exclamation points in drawn-out compound sentences with commas but no periods. Though Musillami has offered larger-ensemble works before, this is clearly his best attempt, a marvelous new music recording of great depth and vision that retains its vibrancy upon repeated plays, and comes highly recommended.