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Massimo Biolcati: Persona

Swedish bassist Massimo Biolcati has served admirably for several years as a sideman for such artists as singer Lizz Wright, pianist Herbie Hancock, trumpeter Terence Blanchard and guitarist Lionel Loueke. Now he steps to center stage as a leader on Persona. The album’s construct is interesting. Rather than alternate between uptempo numbers and ballads, Biolcati has divided the disc in half. The first five pieces are presented under the header “Motion”; the remaining five (side two?) are labeled “Stillness,” and two of those feature vocalists (Wright and Gretchen Parlato). Biolcati wrote all 10 tunes.

Biolcati’s debut shares some aesthetic qualities with Loueke’s recent work, and it’s no coincidence. Not only did the two attend Berklee College of Music together, but Loueke returns his classmate’s favor by performing on Persona. Loueke, in fact, is front and center, and his pan-global style infuses much of the album. The band also features pianist-accordionist Peter Rende and drummer Jeff Ballard.

The album, named for the unsettling 1966 film by Ingmar Bergman, is an illustration of that essential jazz quality: the merging of individual personalities into a cohesive mindset. Each of the four musicians has his own style, but they become aspects of Biolcati’s larger presentation. Mostly, it’s a highbrow sort of modern jazz, but at times it descends into the bland fare that made New Age a pejorative. Whereas “The Beginning” is a jagged romp into post-post-bop, “Wise Way” is not much more than a Windham Hill song with more enthusiasm. Still, Biolcati’s first try as a leader is pleasant enough.

Originally Published