Michael Musillami: Pride

Is too much of a good thing still a good thing? That is the question posed by Pride, a two-hour-plus, double-disc release from the Michael Musillami Trio that presents the equivalent of two complete LPs plus a bonus EP.

Disc one finds the Connecticut-based guitarist’s longtime unit (bassist Joe Fonda and drummer George Schuller) joined by pianist Kris Davis for a collection of Musillami compositions. Musillami’s voice is Monk-influenced, with angular melodies and twisting yet crystal-clear harmonic phrasing. Davis and Fonda provide pointillistic solos on “Uncle Fino’s Garden,” and the pianist’s bittersweet touch elevates “Old Tea,” the titular composition from Musillami’s 2010 tribute to his late son Evan. The coolly roiling Schuller meshes magnificently with Fonda on the shuffling “Mountain Pride,” and two tracks, “Bald Yet Hip” (first heard on 2012’s Mettle) and “Courageous David B.,” feature tenor saxophonist Jimmy Greene, keeping it Monkish by channeling Charlie Rouse at his bluesiest. This disc also includes four songs from a suite Musillami composed to accompany a reading of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are; these tracks, particularly “And It Was Still Hot,” showcase Musillami’s roughest rock-centric playing of the recording.

Pride‘s second disc captures a 2007 live set at New Haven’s Firehouse 12, the trio joined by violinist Mark Feldman in support of then-new release The Treatment. Feldman lays out a propulsive solo on “Swedish Fish” and joins forces with Fonda to cast a dreamy spell over “Beijing.” Musillami and Feldman’s melodicism sparkles with wit on “Human Conditions,” and Schuller knows just when to splash cathartic cymbals on the questing disc-closer “Today the Angels.”

Given the lack of thematic threads connecting these CDs, one wonders why Musillami’s Playscape label chose to release them in tandem. But with such exemplary musicianship, too much of this good thing is very good indeed.