By Bill Meredith Michael Musillami may not have achieved the headlining status of jazz guitar…
By Bill Meredith
Michael Musillami may not have achieved the headlining status of jazz guitar stars Pat Metheny, John Scofield and Bill Frisell, but for the past two decades he’s been crafting adventurous yet accessible music with his outstanding trio. Along with upright bassist Joe Fonda and drummer George Schuller, Musillami celebrates the 20th anniversary of their debut recording, Beijing, with their 10th release, Block Party.
The disc, like its creators, proves both hearty and heady. The chemistry Musillami has developed with his band mates results in their trust in his compositions, which almost always range between written and free-form sections. The opening “Robert Paris,” dedicated to one of the guitarist’s deceased students, is no exception. The piece abruptly breaks away from its strutting elastic feel midway — with Fonda acting as the bluesy, downshifting catalyst — before resuming. The title track is even freer, with all three musicians seemingly playing in different time signatures that nonetheless lock together both before and after Musillami states the celebratory melodic theme.
Schuller’s brush work and Fonda’s bowed bass enliven “Little Ruby Steps,” a Musillami dedication to his granddaughter, as the guitarist displays one of his greatest strengths — and one lost on most lead guitarists — the creative use of space between notes (also on display on the self-descriptive cuts “Slow Moe” and “After Twenty”). The spatial theme of the album is interrupted at its midpoint by the furious swing of “Freedom Calls” before the 12-minute waltz ”Off the Monster” offers an advanced class in creativity and interaction. Schuller’s cymbal and rim work; Fonda’s accents amid the starts and stops; and Musillami’s melodic light and shade prove this trio was deserving of a party well before its 20-year mark.