Jay Azzolina: Past Tense

If you hated the fusion of the last two decades, you may initially approach guitarist Jay Azzolina’s Past Tense with some trepidation. After all, Azzolina’s resume includes a lengthy tenure with one of fusion’s most popular, and some would say, more vapid supergroups, Spyro Gyra. Fortunately, the album finds the guitarist incompany with more astute musicians who know too well that hot licks don’t always make hot jazz.

Azzolina pares down the flashy techniques and engages in some communal postmodern bebop with his quintet, which includes the astute tenor saxophonist Chris Potter, and the nimble, sinewy bassist John Patitucci. On originals like the tender “Black Waltz” you can hear Azzolina’s bluesy sensibilities and mastery of the ballads, while on burners like “Rhythms Change” you can witness his quicksilver dexterity engaged in heated dialogues with Potter’s scorching tenor.

Even though Past Tense is similar to many of Spyro Gyra’s albums, in that the playing is much better than the material, it’s a pleasure to hear Azzolina’s guitar prowess in a more rewarding setting.

John Murph

John Murph is a Washington, D.C.-based music journalist and DJ. He’s written for numerous outlets that include JazzTimes, DownBeat, NPR Jazz, JazzWise, The Root, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic Monthly. He hosts a weekly radio program at Eaton Hotel DC.