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January/February 2009

Sal Mosca
You Go to My Head
Blue Jack

There are two important jazz pianists who died in the new millennium who are in danger of being forgotten: Frank Hewitt and Sal Mosca. Both left behind minimal discographies that prove they were major original stylists.

Mosca studied with Lennie Tristano for eight years, but he incorporates Tristano’s ideas about harmony and rhythm and counterpoint into his own purposes. He sounds rather like Tristano with more blood and guts and less detachment.

Mosca never aggressively pursued a recording or touring career. He had his own studio in Mount Vernon, N.Y., from which he taught advanced students and made private recordings. A few have been commercially released, and they are wonderful to have despite their bad sound. Every single Mosca solo on You Go To My Head is stunning and strange and utterly impossible to anticipate. Each proceeds according to a logic known only to Mosca that sounds inevitable once shared.

There are a lot of sharp angles and jagged edges and combative tremolos. But there is also “I Can’t Get Started,” which Mosca leaves relatively undisturbed except for one blindingly beautiful, loosely related single-note strand he somehow finds in it. “How High the Moon,” falling off cliffs, climbing back over barricades of discord, is also epic.

Originally published in January/February 2009
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