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Michael Bisio: Undulations

Following on the heels of impressive, cutting-edge outings with the Silkheart and Cadence labels, Seattle-based bassist-composer Bisio has come up with a stunning debut for OmniTone. Both his solidly grounded basslines and his remarkable sense of musical architecture impress here. Overall, Undulations resonates with intelligence, emotional depth and probing virtuosity.

Bisio’s quirky, Monkish opener, “Doesn’t Really,” full of tempo shifts and angular figures, provides a springboard into some unbridled improvisations by his risk-taking crew of pianist Bob Nell, the wonderfully fluid trumpeter Rob Blakeslee, viola player Jim Nolet and drummer Ed Pias. “Undulation Song” opens as a lyrical meditation that floats along gracefully on a rolling undercurrent of softly tapped rubato snare drums, like steady raindrops on a rooftop. The piece gradually builds through Nell’s spiky, Cecilesque piano solo and trumpeter Blakeslee answers with some freewheeling blowing of his own. Bisio also pays tribute to a major bass influence on “Grimes, Henry Grimes,” on which he slyly interweaves a quote from Randy Weston’s “Hi Fly.”

Each member of this very flexible, open-minded quintet also offers a distinctive composition to the team. Pias’ “Legends” is a postboppish romp that highlights his flowing pulse on the kit while also turning Blakeslee and Nolet loose for some spirited trading of eights in the old-school tradition. Blakeslee’s “Give Up the Chair” is far freer, opening with an extended solo bass intro by Bisio before introducing a tender, melodic motif stretched over a rubato base that builds to McCoyish whirlwinds of intensity during Nell’s dramatic solo. Nolet’s “Golden Blue” conjures up the spiritual vibe of Trane’s “A Love Supreme,” while Nell’s “Injury or Malpractice?” is perhaps the most inside offering here, closer in spirit to the Don Pullen-George Adams Quartet than to some of the album’s other more freewheeling pieces.

Another strong release by the Brooklyn-based independent label that continues to put a premium on creative music.

Originally Published