How much hip music can you wring out of a threadbare standard? Guitarist Michael Musillami approaches this question from an odd angle. In the strangely defensive liner notes to his latest release, Those Times, he expresses doubt that you can get anything creative out of an old standard. The release in question is a standards session, natch.
Pianist Ted Rosenthal, bassist Dave Shapiro and drummer George Schuller join Musillami here on a set of standards (plus one original) that the guitarist considers part of his musical personality. Musillami's virtues are unshowy ones-he tends to play in lower registers, prefers an open tone and hardly ever sounds rushed-but it's clear from the start that this is Musillami's gig. He takes the bulk of the solo space and handles it with confidence. Rosenthal is largely a deferential presence, though he hems Musillami in here and there. But his interaction with the guitarist on Bill Evans' "Comrade Conrad" sounds more tangled then telepathic.
The guitarist sounds much less constrained on one of the recording's highlights, the trio cover of "Out of Nowhere." Musillami shows a bit more attitude here and takes more liberties with the theme. His subtle shifts in attack and phrasing become a little less subtle. That flash and edge carry over into a terrific cover of Sam Rivers' "Beatrice," which Musillami has reimagined as a catchy, midtempo, hard-bop tune like something out of the Horace Silver line. Much of the rest, however, doesn't really rise above tasteful and well-played postbop.