Sunday, January 1, 2012

Guitars' Suites

The DVD that accompanies this wonderful new recording by guitarist and composer Anthony Wilson serves as an eye-opener for those who never think beyond the music.  There are some listeners who can't tell the difference in sound between a hollow-bodied electric guitar and, say, a Fender Telecaster.  Watching master luthier John Monteleone "listening" to the raw material he is using to create the 4 guitars that make the sounds in "Seasons" A Song Cycle for Guitar Quartet" (Goat Hill Recordings)is like watching a master wine maker blending grapes from different areas of a vineyard to produce a vintage wine.

Once the guitars were built, Monteleone commissioned Wilson to create his "song cycle".  The composer invited 3 friends to play the suite with him, jazz plectrist Steve Cardenas, the splendid Brazilian guitarist Chico Pinheiro and the impressive "child prodigy" (now 23) Julian Lage.  The 4-part composition - "Winter", "Spring", "Summer" and "Autumn" - incorporates the quartet of guitars into a wistful yet often intensely emotional world of shimmering notes, highly rhythmical strumming, intricate melodies, and single-note runs that are, at turns, delicate and breath-taking. Recorded in concert at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the performance (some of which is documented on the DVD) is filled with handsome interplay, dazzling unison lines, and, when one sits back and really pays attention, wonderful conversations between friends.  Each guitarist gets a "solo" turn; Pineheiro plays a lovely version of Jobim's "Tide" on the "spring" guitar while Lage caresses Eddie Lang's "April Kisses" on the "summer" 6-strings.  Cardenas utilizes the "winter" guitar to create a simple yet stunning version of "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most"  and Wilson plays "Mediation on Autumn/Fall" (a medley of an original piece with the Wayne Shorter composition from Miles Davis's "Nefertiti" Lp) on, naturally, the "autumn" guitar.  The program closes with the quartet reconvening for a pleasing performance of Joni Mitchell's "The Circle Game" (wonderful counterpoint throughout the song.)

"Seasons" is all acoustic music yet there is electricity in the interplay.  The warmth of John Monteleone's 4 guitars is evident throughout as is the camaraderie of the Anthony Wilson, Steve Cardenas, Julian Lage and Chico Pinheiro. Wilson's writing, arrangements and playing continues to mature and this recording is a gem.  For more information, go to

Enjoy "Spring" from "Seasons:

The Michael Musillami Trio - guitarist/composer Musillami, bassist Joe Fonda and drummer George Schuller - is celebrating 10 years as a unit in 2012.  Over that span, they have issued 2 CDs,3 as a Trio and 2 with guests (violinist Mark Feldman is on "The Treatment" while Ralph Alessi, Matt Moran and Marty Ehrlich are added on "From Seeds."). 

For its 6th release, the Michael Musillami Trio + 4: "Mettle" (coming in February on Musillami's Playscape Recordings), vibraphonist Moran rejoins the group and Russ Johnson (trumpet), Ned Rothenberg (alto sax, clarinet) and Jeff Lederer (tenor saxophone, clarinet) are added as well.  The program is comprised of 4 original pieces, each with a story connected to it.  The centerpiece of the disk is the nearly 35-minute "Summer Suite: Twenty Ten" - the work has 8 distinct sections.  It opens with "Iceland", a tune written prior to the Trio's planned journey to Europe and the fear that the volcano eruption (and the subsequent ash cloud) might cancel the flight. The composer's shaved head provides the title for "Bald Yet Hip", a bluesy piece that features an exciting interchange between Johnson and Fonda.  Moran's "floating" vibes leads "Piazzolla On The Porch" in and the splendid blend of the dancing melody (played by the reeds and horn) with Moran's hearty solo captures the ear (yet pay attention to the great rhythm trio by the Trio.) Johnson's muted trumpet sounds above the Musillami's quiet tones on "Nebraska" is quite beautiful. Other highlights include Fonda's handsome solo piece "High Likeability Factor", Schuller's drum spotlight "Moe"  and Lederer and Rothenberg's lively tenor and alto sax lines on the short "Barnstable News" that closes the suite.

3 longer pieces complete the CD.  The opening track, "Piana Dei Greci" (dedicated to the small Sicilian village for which all 4 of the guitarist's grandparents came from), starts quietly withy shimmering vibes supporting a rich guitar melody.  Here, as in other moments on the disk, Musillami's guitar work and tone sounds like a bit like Carlos Santana - the tune opens up to allow short solos from the front line.  "Blues for the Wounded Warrior" is dedicated to the Wounded Warrior Project that assists members of the armed services who have life-altering injuries. This is not a sorrowful "blues" but a defiant one with exciting solos from Rothenberg and Lederer on saxophones as well as Moran on vibes. 2/3rds of thr way through the 14-minute track, Musillami commences a series of dialogues, first with the drums, then the bass and culminating with the trumpet leading to rousing, upbeat, finish. The final track, "Thuggish Mornings", was inspired by the composer and his daughter wearing their "hoodies" to breakfast as well as the music and rhythms of Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur.  In the midst of the funky "beats", the melody line reflects both European classical and Jamaican influences (!) Johnson's solo is an aural treat then Lederer and Rothenberg duel and dance around on their respective clarinets.  It's a joyful close to an impressive CD.

Michael Musillami shows continued growth and new strength on "Mettle" - the tunes are all strong, the arrangements impressive and his playing shines. Yet, this is primarily an ensemble recording and he allows his 6 fellow travelers plenty of room to display their talents.To find out more, go to and follow the links.

On Friday January 13th, Musillami bring the Trio +4 to the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, CT, to celebrate the release of "Mettle." The guitarist is Director of jazz Studies at the private high school   Long-time associate Peter Madsen (piano) replaces Matt Moran for the gig that will feature new material arranged for the different lineup. To find out more, go to or call 860-435-4423.

1 comment:

  1. Richard and your readers -- I couldn't agree more on the magic of Seasons. If I can (as usual) do a little plug, I'll mention that Anthony was on The Jazz Session recently talking about the album. You can hear the interview here:

    I'm also giving away two copies of Seasons to the next two people who join The Jazz Session at the middle or upper membership levels.