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Michael Musillami: Zephyr

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Zephyr successfully achieves its modest ambition. Pride, released in 2014, was a two-hour extravaganza that abetted guitarist Michael Musillami’s trio with rugged, notable guests (Kris Davis, Mark Feldman, Jimmy Greene), containing a live disc revitalizing old Musillami numbers and a studio disc that culminates with a four-song suite. By contrast, Zephyr sticks to the longstanding trio of Musillami, bassist Joe Fonda and drummer George Schuller. For their eighth release in 13 years, they impulsively entered the studio after a short tour in the spring of 2015 and laid down a half-dozen personal but unpretentious Musillami originals.

The trio interplay is spare and spacious, seasoned with Musillami’s compositional imagination but girded with vamps and a slightly funky lilt that is more straightforward than much of his previous output. The disc is framed by remembrances dedicated to his former bassist and friend, Dave Shapiro (the three-way call-and-response “Loops”), and to Dawn Hochsprung, the mother of his son’s wife, who was killed in the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, where she was principal (“Remembering Dawn”). A ballad for his daughter, “Francesca’s Flowers,” is a fragile tone poem. “Zephyr Cove” and “Pacific School” are musical meditations on landmarks from his childhood.

This material is well suited for Musillami’s guitar style, which meshes the amiable liquidity of Southern rock (think Dickey Betts) with the more cerebral delicacy associated with Jim Hall. Fonda and Schuller are typically astute, sensitive and simpatico. The absence of grandiosity, especially in light of its often emotionally charged inspirations, makes Zephyr a pleasant encounter.

Originally Published