Blippity Blat
Matt Criscuolo

If the food at the four Connecticut restaurants owned by Matt Criscuolo is as good as his alto saxophone, then he must surely have numerous repeat customers. Criscuolo's sound and approach on alto are such that his main influence is hard to pinpoint, for names like Parker, Woods, Moody, Konitz, and Pepper don't seem to quite fit his refreshingly original style. He is also an adept and prolific composer as shown by the seven new originals on this CD, his fourth as a leader, that more than hold their own with other tunes by Wayne Shorter, Weill & Gershwin, and Larry Willis. Veteran pianist Willis joins Criscuolo here for the third time in the studio, while John Clark, perhaps the most accomplished and versatile French horn player in jazz over several decades, reprises his role from the saxophonist's 2008 Melancholia release. Completing the quintet are bassist Gerald Cannon and drummer Billy Williams, the latter also back from Melancholia. This album's attractive packaging lacks one essential ingredient, a track list, which the purchaser will need to obtain from a website such as Amazon.com. (It's not enough to put it on a press release which only a prospective reviewer gets to see.) Such a list is also provided at the bottom of this review.

Willis' intro sets the funky, soulful mood for "Shuckin' the Cob," and the theme sustains it, as harmonized by alto and French horn. Clark's solo immediately confirms his credentials with a sound and pliant phrasing that are both captivating. Criscuolo's perky improv insinuates rather then overwhelms, and emphatic statements from Cannon and Williams solidify this opening selection's special allure. The theme of "Blippity Blat" and its alto-French horn textures bring Charles Mingus to mind, as do the focused, yet spirited, elaborations of Clark and Criscuolo in their solos, with the leader's threatening to burst forth in free form protestations at various points. "Somethin' Like That" possesses a penetrating, bluesy line proffered by Criscuolo along with Willis' strong chordal support. The alto solo is marked by its distinctive sound and sinuous development, and is propelled by Cannon's momentous bass patterns. Willis offers up a quick, robust statement before the reprise of this tightly packed 3:52 modal caper. "Generally Not" is a catchy Criscuolo tune that might have come out of the Art Blakey or Cannonball Adderley repertoires, with Clark's trombone-like French horn solo displaying his exceptional facility and creativity on the instrument. Criscuolo follows with a thematic diversion that flows logically and absorbingly. Willis surges through his spot with winning artistry, and both Cannon and Williams excel in their bolstering and also enhancing roles.

"Inventiscovered" is a romantically inclined ballad, and finds Criscuolo's keening tone articulating the theme in tandem with Clark's contrastingly subterranean emanations. Criscuolo's solo is contemplative and heartfelt and spans the full range of his horn. Willis in turn combines cohesive lyricism with adamant chords and left-hand punctuations. The swirling head of "Ronnie's Tune" is taken on with a flourish by the front line with Williams' clicking rhythm and a dramatic vamp raising the textural content. Clark's exploration is mellow and inviting, while Criscuolo's is tart and provocative. Cannon transfixes with his improv, underlined by just Willis' sparse accompaniment. Space is given Williams as well, and he builds a substantial solo that mixes muscular trap rhythms with appealing cymbal accents. The insistent hard bop of Willis' "The Rock" is driven by Williams' boisterous drum work, and inspires one of Criscuolo's best solos of the CD, spurting and sprightly. Again Clark sounds at times like a trombone during his propulsive and perceptive trip, and Willis is relentless in his glittering pronouncement. Williams' energetically tuneful escapade concludes this heady series of individual expressions.

The spellbinding melody of Shorter's "Dance Cadaverous" is beautifully handled by Criscuolo and Clark, and the altoist's initial solo tips its hat skillfully to the composer's indelible playing style through the level of intensity and structural concept. Willis begins his probings with tender thoughtfulness, but gradually rises to an ecstatic peak prior to a diminuendo into the horns' buoyant reprise. "The Larry Willis I Know" is Criscuolo's second dedication to the formidable Willis, after "Iron Willis" on the 2005 Lotus Blossom disc. Cannon establishes a "Poinciana" derived pulse leading up to the twisting, lightly-voiced theme reading from Criscuolo and Clark, the alluring groove completed by Willis' chords and Williams' persistent beat. Clark's enchanting solo precedes Criscuolo's more vigorous and biting effort. Willis is the pianist "we know" in his solo, varying his two-handed attack in commanding fashion, and Cannon again demands attention during the narrative of his journey. Alto and French horn intertwine stylishly for the out chorus, with Williams' cymbal bursts adding special coloration. The standard "My Ship" commences dramatically with Cannon's arco long tones, only to revert to form as Criscuolo and Clark touchingly share the melody either separately or in glorious harmony for the four minutes plus-- but alas, no solos.

The tracks: Shuckin' the Cob-- Blippity Blat--Somethin' Like That--Generally Not--Inventiscovered--Ronnie's Tune--The Rock--Dance Cadaverous--The Larry Willis I Know--My Ship.

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Scott Albin