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December's Moon-- Ron Oswanski

The versatile multi-instrumentalist Ron Oswanski has been an in-demand sideman and session player, while also helping to run a company that makes specialized microphones for musicians. Oswanski played and recorded as a teenager in the '90's with Maynard Ferguson's Big Bop Nouveau Band, and more recently has been a part of the Dave Samuel's Organik Vibe Trio and the trios of guitarists Oz Noy and Sheryl Bailey. December's Moon is surprisingly Oswanski's first release as a leader, and he is heard on three of his four instruments--organ, piano, and accordion (but not electric bass). The emphasis is on the B-3, which he plays in a style influenced by post-bopper Larry Young. "I'm not a traditional Jimmy Smith style organ player," says Oswanski. "I do play that style, but I'm a big ECM fan who's listened to a lot of Keith Jarrett and Jan Garbarek." Fittingly, he is joined on several tracks by John Abercrombie, a guitarist whose own Organ Trio shares some of Oswanski's musical preferences for "open harmonies", and "subtlety and beautiful melodies." Also appearing in various combinations are saxophonist Tim Ries, guitarist Jay Azzolina, bassist John Patitucci, and drummers Ian Froman and Clarence Penn. The talented Oswanki's skills as a performer, composer and bandleader, plus his astute choices of tunes by others, results in a wide-ranging debut that hopefully will be the first of many such projects.

On "White Meadow," Oswanski's long tones combine engagingly with Abercrombie's thrusting lines leading to Ries' tenor reading of the leader's yearning theme. Oswanski's organ solo is intricately woven in the manner of Young, and Ries' statement is pure exclamatory post bop. Froman's drumming is continously aggressive and stimulating, perhaps most notably during Abercrombie's ravishing but regrettably faded-out solo ending the track. Ries' "Solo Por Undia" finds Oswanski's accordion playing the lilting melody and developing a short solo that is remindful of Richard Galliano's facility and verve. After a reprise, Ries on tenor also provides a brief but appealing improv to wind down this 3:25 miniature. Abercrombie delicately intones Oswanski's ballad "December's Moon" in tandem with Ries' soprano. The guitarist's lucidly focused solo leads back to a mostly unison guitar/sax reprise prior to Oswanski's throbbing organ exploration. He then comps enhancingly for Ries' wailing turn that again succumbs to a fade out.

The late polka accordionist/bandleader Verne Meisner's "Ukrania Polka" is a fantastic polka brought here into the sphere of post bop, its melody shared by Ries' soprano, Azzolina's guitar, and Oswanski's accordion. Again Oswanski dares to approach the artistry of Galliano in his insinuating solo, and Ries also frolics through the changes with spirited alacrity. Patitucci and Penn create a tenacious and irresistible rhythmic flow. Abercrombie's ethereal intro to Oswanski's "Mercury Retrograde" evolves into an ardent theme treatment by guitar, soprano, and organ. The guitarist's insistent improv is ably supported by sustained organ hues and Froman's encouraging drum work. Oswanski's solo is rich in both tonal quality and imaginative phrasing, while Ries supplies a closing exploration of serious intent and genuine emotion. The Page/Plant Led Zeppelin opus, "The Rain Song," gets a hearty, moody interpretation. Ries' soprano is tenderly compelling on the theme, and Azzolina's delicate guitar affords a complementary voice. Oswanski's piano solo flowers lyrically, in contrast to Ries' piercing, exultant outing. Azzolina's bluesy spot is a cascading wonder.

Oswanski's "Sleeping Beauty" has a beguiling, spiritual quality, as played by Ries. The composer's organ solo possesses a legato reverence, but Ries' improv displays more tension and bite, all aided by Froman's committed attack. "Milk of the Moon" is a beautiful Oswanski ballad that he first performed on Ferguson's 1998 Brass Attitude album. Abercrombie and Ries' soprano blend enchantingly on the melody, with the organist's understated colorations underneath. The guitarist's solo is a study in effective lyricism, and Ries is equally eloquent in a more emphatic mode. "80-80-8" has a jabbing head, and Oswanski pumps out Young-like voicings in his comping for Ries' undulating, involving treatise, and Abercrombie's darting well-sustained flight. The composer's organ solo merges his ample technique with fresh ideas and formulations.

Ries on tenor elucidates the catchy, uplifting "Standard Tile," immediately giving way to Oswanski's absorbing, perpetual motion essay. Ries takes a bluesy, soulful slant in response, and Froman elevates the proceedings in both solo and supporting roles. Abercrombie and Oswanski share the gently floating theme of Kenny Wheeler's "Kayak," with the former taking the first driving, fully engrossed solo as the organist backs him artfully. Oswanski's take is unrelenting in its momentum and expressiveness. Trades with Froman allow the drummer to spread his wings as well with zesty precision. Fred Hersch's tribute to Bill Evans, "Evanessence," is proffered by Oswanski on piano with just Patitucci and Penn. The leader here sounds eerily like Evans, both tonally and in his phrasing and rhythmic sense, but no one can dispute the depth or attractiveness of his flawless solo. The bassist and drummer also make tasteful statements, the latter in brisk exchanges with the pianist.

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Scott Albin