Upon graduating from Ohio State University in 1986, pianist and composer Russ Lossing moved to New York City. Over the decades, he has played and recorded with drummer Paul Motian, cornetist Kirk Knuffke, saxophonists Loren Stillman and John O'Gallagher plus many others. As a leader, he has recorded for HATOLOGY, Clean Feed, Fresh Sound, and Sunnyside Records. His music, while influenced by Thelonious Monk, Andrew Hill, and the afore-mentioned Motian, is wide open, leaving plenty of room for his collaborators to speak their own piece.
"Metamorphism" (Sunnyside Records), though recorded in 2017, sounds fresh and timeless. Joined by Stillman (alto and soprano saxophones), John Hébert (bass), and Michael Sarin (drums) –– all long-time associates –– most of Lossing's eight original pieces flow with serenity from one to another. Yet, there is intensity in how the musicians move towards and away from each other, how the solos rise up and make the listener aware that the music is not about technique but has emotional depth. The program opens with a percussive piano figure leading the rhythm section in with each musician playing elements of the melody. When the alto sax and piano play the main theme, one hears a Middle Eastern-influenced melody. Notice how the rhythm section stops and starts, how they create a dialogue with the piano and sax, especially during the solos.
Photo: Clara Pereira
The title track, the longest on the recording at 12:25, is dedicated to Paul Motian. The sparse opening moments recall Lossing's long relationship to the late drummer-composer, the piano presenting the melody before the bass and drums enter. Stillman plays soprano sax here, his long tones rising above the spare accompaniment. Slowly, steadily, the intensity ramps up with Lossing and Stillman weaving mini-rhapsodies around each other. Listen below to how the melody is moved back out front in the last moments of the performance. There are moments that the music reminds this listener of the Keith Jarrett American Quartet on the 1970s - 80s (of which the late Mr. Motian was a member).
Photo: Chris Drukker
Another longer track (9:31), "Blue Horizon", is dedicated to Andrew Hill. The music moves slowly, has a mysterious feel, yet one feels you can hear the band communicating with each other. The shortest track (2:35), "Pileatus", serves as a spotlight for Sarin's powerful, melodic, drums. The melody is percussive with the bass, piano, and soprano sax playing in unison. The funky "June Jig" dances forward on the drums and Hébert's rich bass work. Lossing sits out during the alto solo so one can really hear how Stillman interacts with Sarin and how the bassist complements them. "Canto 24" closes the album; again all four musicians state the theme before the solo section is a series of encounters, responses, reactions, and counterpoint. As the music moves forward, the quartet is responding to each other in such an organic fashion.
"Metamorphism" is an adventurous collection of pieces that never boils over nor lapses into cliches. The listener can hear how comfortable the musicians are with each other, allowing themselves to be continually challenged by the compositions of Russ Lossing. There's little clutter in the sound, the articulated piano notes stand out as do all the "voices" of the quartet. This album deserves to be listened all the way through each time to appreciate the beauty and the humanity the music contains.
Born in France but raised in Brazil, bassist and composer Gui Duvignau has led a fascinating life. His first musical interest was "heavy metal" but he soon discovered the bass work of Ron Carter (with the "classic" Miles Davis Quintet), Jimmy Garrison (with the John Coltrane Quartet), Jaco Pastorious, and Charles Mingus. He also explored the delights of Brazilian composers and performers. The bassist moved to the United States to attend the Berklee College of Music and on to Portugal and Paris, France for several years. While living there, the bassist co-led an ensemble with vocalist Sofia Ribeiro; they released an album, "Porto", is 2010. His debut as a leader, "Fissura", was also recorded in France (2014) and issued on a Brazilian label in 2016. Duvignau then moved to New York City to study at NYU's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. There he met Argentinean-born pianist Santiago Leibson who introduced him to drummer Jeff Hirshfield and they created a trio.
His American debut, "3, 5, 8" (Sunnyside Records), features Leibson and Hirschfield plus, on several tracks, Billy Drewes (tenor saxophone) and German guitarist Elias Meister. The nine-song program, all composed by the leader, opens with two trio tracks, "Volta" and "'2'". The former is a ballad with a folk-like melody, moving forward in the style of the late Paul Motian. Leibson's rippling piano lines rise above the counterpoint of the bass and the conversational drums. Duvignau leads the way on the latter tune, also one with a folk-like melody, that turns towards swing especially during the delightful piano solo. Later in the program, the lovely ballad "Une Pensée Pour Paris", is notable for the melodic bass solo, Leibson's emotional piano phrases, and Hirschfield's artistic brushwork. The delightful "Vem Logo!" ("Coming Soon") is a sweet romp for the trio. Opening with a strong bass solo, the pianist follows with a solo built on a chordal progression that is continually and melodically mutating.
Photo: Thibault Della Gaspera
Drewes and Meister first join the trio on the atmospheric ballad "Yerevan". The piece, composed for the bassist's girlfriend, pushes forward on the insistent bass and piano with both the saxophone and guitar echoing the melody line. Near the close of the tune, Drewes creates a fiery solo with Meister's distorted guitar and the pianist's flowing lines serving as counterpoint. "Minas", inspired by Duvignau's first home in Brazil, opens with a handsome bass solo –– after a quiet start, Leibson leads the band into a samba rhythm over which the saxophonist creates a powerful, driving, solo. The bassist composed the dancing "Detuned for Drewes" to tap into the saxophonist's playful side and the quartet get into a sweet groove. Meister stands out on the raucous, blues-drenched, ballad "Somewhat", showing the influences of Ben Monder and Bill Frisell. His guitar lines sting, roar, and moan opening the door for a hard-edged tenor sax solo.
"3, 5, 8" serves as a delightful introduction to the musical worlds of bassist and composer Gui Duvignau. While the music he created for his fellow musicians gives the leader plenty of opportunities to solo, he all also leaves room for everyone else to shine. And they do! With music this good, one is excited to see where the bassist goes from here.
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