Sunday, April 7, 2013

Michael Blanco's "No Time Like The Present"

Bassist Michael Blanco’s second album as a leader titled NoTime Like the Present, offers nine compositions by the young and talented musician. Hailing from the School of Creative and Performing Arts in San Diego, California, he moved to New York City in January of 2000. Since then, Blanco has played or recorded with several of the rising young stars of the New York City jazz scene and been a fixture in the orchestra pit of many a Broadway show, including The Book of Mormon and the revivals of stalwart shows like Grease and How to Succeed in Business.

On No Time Like the Present he has assembled some stellar players, all making their mark in the New York music scene. They include the multi-reed player John Ellis, the guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg, the drummer Mark Ferber and the pianist David Cook.
The music, all composed by the bassist, includes some interesting twists and turns, all executed with precision and taste.

On “Dutch Kills” you are treated to some tight front line playing by saxophonist Ellis and guitarist Kreisberg, two formidable musicians, who negotiate the quick paced lines of the melody with precision and uncanny unanimity. Blanco’s bass solo is full and buoyant. Elllis is a master of fluidity on his solo and Kreisberg’s comps are spot on.  Mark Ferber’s floating drums serves to anchor the piece without impeding its flight.

The title song “No Time Like the Present” is another case in point. Blanco, Ferber and Cook set the ostinato vamp allowing Ellis and Kreisberg execute the darting melody line. After a sweeping guitar solo by Kreisberg that features some quixotic runs, the group takes off in a deeply swinging double time pace featuring Elllis’ tenor. Ferber creates his own special magic with powerfully driving fills that float above it all to a tasty conclusion.
“You Really Shouldn’t”, though totally different, has the feel and swagger of Monk’s “Well You Needn’t.” Kreisberg’s electric guitar chords create some interesting discordant, Monkish-like sounds along the way as Ellis plays around the melody. Pianist Cook plays in his own disjunctive solo as Ferber and Blanco keep the rhumba beat.

The dreamy “Midnight” finds Kreisberg’s using his echoed guitar to create a sensitive sound that lies somewhere between Dick Dale and Bill Frisell. Ferber is particularly subtle here laying down soft crashes in between delicate brush work and feathery rolls.

Throughout the album the front line of Ellis on saxophone and Kreisberg on guitar are especially in tune with each other, showing impeccable timing in executing difficult lines in tandem. This is especially notable on tracks like “RSVP” a medium tempo swinger that just nails it. Ferber and Blanco work so well together with such marvelous elasticity that they make the swing feel seem so easy to attain.

On “Smithlike” saxophonist John Ellis picks up his soprano, displaying some spidery lines that are light, soaring and carefree. Pianist Cook’s solo is his most interesting on the album, moving back and forth on ideas before settling with a particular direction. Blanco has a strong bass solo where his fingers dance on his strings with warm, pliant pizzicato authority.

“Emily”s Wedding “ is a Blanco reconstruction based on the memorable opening line of  another classic,  this time Johnny Mandell’s “Emily.” Though nicely played, the song is a languishing ballad that does nothing to improve upon the original. “Postcard” is a song that features Michael Blanco on solo bass playing a repeating line that could be catchy but goes nowhere. The finale of the album is titled “Ellis Island” which returns the band to the unison front line playing that seems to be its forte. Jonathan Kreisberg ends the song with a cooking guitar solo that expands into a nice flurry of arpeggios, as Cook, Ferber and Blanco keep the rhythm cooking.

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