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November 2007

Michael Musillami Trio with Mark Feldman
The Treatment
Playscape Recordings

Although not intended as such, The Treatment is a study in the frontline string players’ contrasting styles. Mark Feldman’s violin sings, inspired joy flowing through every legato phrase he plays; his music is a pleasure. Guitarist Michael Musillami, an adroit and creative musician, also creates enchantments, but fewer and farther between. Listening to him is more work than gratification.

That dichotomy shapes almost everything about the trio-plus-violinist disc, except for Musillami’s compositions. They’re packed with goodies: long, complicated threads of melody, condensed into tight spaces so that tension practically bursts through every measure. Indeed, the gems in Musillami’s solos come when he exploits that tension, as in his slither on “The Treatment” and his dissonant chording. (Abrasive harmonies frame the entire recording.) The rest of the time he meanders, navigating the tunes with imagination but not providing much to enjoy.

Meantime, Feldman plays arias—most surprisingly on “Human Conditions,” which is so syncopated it’s almost a spy-movie theme—but also uses Eastern-sounding phrases (“Stark Beauty,” “Beijing to Brooklyn”). His presence adds a veneer of loveliness to The Treatment. The rhythm section, bassist Joe Fonda and drummer George Schuller, are steady swingers who occasionally venture out into bolder territory, though almost never as bold as they pretend. (Schuller is especially guilty.) Still, when they do break free on the closing “Beijing to Brooklyn,” their color and unpredictability are a thing to behold.

The package includes a concert DVD that adds nothing, including energy, to the affair.

Originally published in November 2007
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