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Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet: Family First

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Recent generations of drummers have reshaped the role of percussion in the small jazz ensemble. They include people like Mark Guiliana, Antonio Sanchez, Dave King, Eric Harland and Justin Brown. These drummers share scary chops, outright aggression and musicianship that keep them (just barely) from overwhelming their bands. The most erudite among them improvise trap-set scores for Oscar-winning films (Sanchez, for Birdman) or become significant bandleaders and label founders.

Guiliana launched Beat Music Productions in 2014. His first two releases, My Life Starts Now and Beat Music: The Los Angeles Improvisations, were as different as composed and spontaneous albums can be. Yet both contained belligerence, noise, electronics, raw funk and blatant disregard for genre.

Now comes Family First, the debut of an acoustic quartet with standard instrumentation: Jason Rigby (saxophones); Shai Maestro (piano); Chris Morrissey (bass). Nothing else about it is standard. Guiliana sounds like Tony Williams filtered through Dave Grohl. His band plays advanced postmodern freebop with a garage/grunge sense of license. “One Month” opens with irregular drumbeats into which Maestro inserts irregular chords. Over this jagged foundation, Rigby, on tenor, starts in slow, plaintive calls and suddenly turns frantic. “ABED” would be straight swing with a ride pulse except it keeps changing velocities. “2014” is a yearning ballad constantly threatened by Guiliana’s dark rumbling. “From You” is a long, burning, convoluted line traced by Rigby, interrupted by cryptic piano interludes that spill free. Rigby and Maestro, under-the-radar players, are brilliant on this record.

Guiliana the drummer continuously generates compelling, complex content in which violence and quietude reasonably coexist. Guiliana the composer creates complete, detailed, wildly diverse conceptions. Still, “Johnny Was,” the only cover, makes you wish for more. Hearing Bob Marley’s song affirmed with the merciless mindset of Guiliana’s quartet is special fun.

Originally Published