Monday, November 22, 2021

Unlimited High Energy from bassist Dave Zinno's Unisphere on "FETISH"

Dave Zinno Unisphere Fetish  WCS130

Some great things come in small packages. As a  state, Rhode Island is according to its geographical area, the smallest in the country. Despite its’ small footprint, the state features many important universities, beautiful resorts and has some of the countries most beautiful beaches, so much so that it is known as the Ocean State. The bassist/composer Dave Zinno hails from Rhode Island, and his compact appearance belies the large and dynamic presence he projects when he plays his double bass. 

Zinno attended the University of Rhode Island and Berklee School of Music and is a teaching associate at URI, Salve Regina, and Brown Universities. Fetish is the third album from his group Unisphere, and was released back in September on Neal Weiss’ Whaling City Sound. For the musicians, this album came like a long-awaited breath of fresh air, a release of energy from the pent-up restrictions that held them hostage to restrictions for over a year during the peak of the pandemic. This album was their get out of jail card to return to playing and hopefully performing to a real audience.

Zinno energizes the music of this album with power, exuberance, and skill that sets the stage for an enjoyable listening experience right from the opening salvo of his title composition “Fetish.” Zinno’s double bass repeats the fusillade-like opening statement with fury and precision and the group takes the clue and lightens up the intensity with a controlled, tight front line of sax and trumpet, two pianists, and a spirited drummer. This music just shouts out with excitement and it's only the beginning. 

The Unisphere group has a formidable front line that includes tenor saxophonist Mike Tucker and trumpeter Eric Benny Bloom as they add to the intensity. The dual pianists include Leo Genovese and Tim Ray add texture and style and the rhythm section is anchored by Zinno and drummer Rafael Barata. 

Leo Genovese’s composition “Out of the Hole” is a driving outing that features this talented pianist who just shreds with an endless flow of ideas and intensity. Bloom’s trumpet sends it to the skies and Tucker wails with piercing intention as Zinno and Barata drive relentlessly. Zinno offers a fleet pizzicato solo at the coda that resonates with force.

“Unknown Mystery” is a powerful Bloom composition, with the front line sounding like they could be graduates of the Art Blakey Messengers school. Zinno’s booming bass just erupts with steady drive and authority. Genovese offers a spacey electronic keyboard solo and Barata’s drums percolate kinetically.

Dave Zinno ( photo credit unknown)

Tuckers’ “The Golden Age” is a jagged, energized piece that features some incendiary work by the saxophonist and some intense front-line work. Tucker also contributed “Melancholy Daydream” whose music creates the feel of catching you in a rising thermal, like you’re in a hang glider and reaching altitudes you never dreamed of. Tucker’s “Over the Horizon,” one of my favorites of this album, a more subdued ballad that features some somber arco work by Zinno, some well-matched front-line work by Tucker and Bloom, and Genovese piano accents that shine. The bassist anchors the song with his huge bass sound and offers a sensitive pizzicato solo that is a delight.

“So Close So Far” is a Zinno composition that just struts with confidence. Zinno’s bass chops almost explode with attitude as he demonstrates formidable facility and inventiveness. Genovese, Bloom, and Tucker pick up on the music’s raucous sentiment and with Barata’s energized drums make this one a family affair.

The album adds a sensitive Tim Ray arrangement to the Brazilian ballad by Edu Lobo titled “Beatrix”. Ray’s piano work is warm and moving. Zinno and Tucker add to the emotional impact of this song with their individual contributions. The beauty of this music obviously moved this group and it shows. The drummer Barata knew this one well having worked with the composer in the past.

One of the album’s standouts, Paul Nagel’s “Future History,” opens with a dark, fluttering bass entre before Zinno starts with the ostinato-driven bassline. Genovese’s cascading piano comps create watery lines that waterfall over the movement. Tucker’s sax is relentlessly probing and wails with a rabid sense of purpose, very Coltrane-inspired. Genovese’s piano work is captivating and teeming with speed and a flow of ideas that are hard to imagine can come from one bubbling mind.

Dave Zinno’s “Nile” is perhaps the most adventurous tune on the album. It includes the bassist playing the cuica (pronounced ku ike), a Brazilian percussion instrument that produces a high-pitched squeaky timbre which Zinno uses in the opening. The song was written by Zinno in the eighties after watching the Bogart and Hepburn classic movie “African Queen.”  The song emulates the aural sounds of the jungle and depicts the sauntering, swaying feel of traveling up a river by boat that is in no hurry to get where it is going. Bloom’s trumpet work here is entrancing, and Ray’s piano is expansive and splendid. Zinno and Barata maintain the slow, deliberate pace to perfection.

The album also includes Genovese’s “Into the Whole” a driving waltz, and it ends with Dom Salvador ‘s “Menu Fraco e CafĂ© Forte” which translates from Portuguese as “Weak Menu Strong Coffee.” The song was arranged by Brazilian trombonist Rafael Rocha who also plays as a guest on this one. The front line is enriched by the presence of Rocha’s trombone and the music has a joyous sway to it. Barata's drums add great power and joy to this one.The samba was recorded remotely and when the composer Salvador got a chance to preview this arrangement he said it all:  it was “…a beautiful rendition of this song…such a fresh approach…too wonderful for words.”

If you are into high energy music played skillfully and with highly skilled musicians that obviously love working together, Dave Zinno and Unisphere's  Fetish is an album that will surely please.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Jazz-Blues Brothers: Jeremy Monteiro and Alberto Marisco Cook up some Blues

Jazz-Blues Brothers - Jeremy Monteiro & Alberto Marsico Jazz Note 261084-99

It is always a pleasant surprise to discover musicians, unknown to you but admired and respected on an international level, defining the depth and breadth of people who carry on the tradition of jazz and blues throughout the world. Case in point, the latest album from Singaporean pianist Jeremy Monteiro and Italian organ master Alberto Marisco titled Jazz-Blues Brothers on JazzNote Records. While this music is an art form that was developed out of the African American experience, it has and continues to touch the hearts and souls of people of all races, ethnicities, geographical locations, and life experiences. It is a true communicating vehicle that never ceases to astound with its unequaled ability to bring people together and share an emotional expression of the human condition. This album just proves how well absorbed into musician’s DNA this music has become.

Singaporean-based pianist/composer Jeremy Monteiro and Italian-based B3 organ player Alberto Marsico are matched here in this unusual format of having two keyboards. The band includes Oklahoma-raised saxophonist Shawn Letts, drummer Shawn Kelley, who makes Syracuse NY his home, and the guitarist Eugen Pao who hails from Hong Kong. The album includes two performances recorded live in London at the Elgar Room in Albert Hall and includes the under the radar vocalist chanteuse Miz Dee Logwood on two blues classics “I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water” made famous by Lou Rawls and an Etta James notable “I’d Rather Go Blind.”

The album starts with the Marsico composition aptly titled “Opening Act,” a swinging, sauntering blues. Monteiro’s piano comps perfectly.  Marisco’s funky B3 excites with his fluid and gutsy approach which is pure joy. Letts’ blows his tenor with ease and confidence as Kelley’s drums and Marisco’s foot-based bottom lines keep the pace swinging. Pao’s guitar work is a revelation. This man has some overflowing ideas that just fit without being trite or overplayed. Monteiro’s piano solo is exciting as it is appropriately funky.

Monteiro’s composition “Olympia” was first heard on saxophone great Ernie Watts album Stand Up from 1993.  Monteiro joked he was watching the Los Angles Summer Olympics back in 1984 and wrote this driving gem inspired by the sports event. There is the drive of sports competition and the regality event in this music.  Marisco’s feet set the beat. There is pushing tenor work by Letts (you can just hear Watts influence), and percolating drum work by Kelley setting up the locomotive rhythmic drive of this incendiary piece. Monteiro offers a scorching piano solo that demonstrates the mastery of this man. Marisco adds his own organ version of flame-throwing creativity. Pao’s solo dances on his fretboard with amazing tenacity and precision. This one just breathes fire.

Getting back to a swinging blues, North California-based Miz Dee Logwood gravely voice is featured here on “I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water”. The group swings at a brisk pace and Monteiro’s piano sets the stage with his own remarkably athletic piano work that just lets loose. Logwood is a gem of authenticity and soul.

Eugene Pao. Shawn Letts, Jeremy Monteiro, Alberto Marisco Shawn Kelley

Monteiro’s “Mount Olive” has a funky, gospel-like feel that was inspired by and written for the Mount Olive Baptist Church in Washington D.C. a place that the pianist visited and was moved by the church's musicality. Marisco has his B3 set to be angelically inspired and Monteiro’s piano is as funky as if listening to the late Billy Preston in spirit.

Marisco offers four other compositions for this project. The first is the slow sizzling composition “Lou” which lasts for over eleven minutes. The song first features Letts on some burning tenor solo on this homage written to the great blues-jazz singer Lou Rawls. The music starts slow and builds to a white-hot apex with each soloist performing in progression. Monteiro’s piano gets the next chance to work on the build-up and goes from gospel to funk. Pao gets his turn on his ripping guitar work. Ultimately Marisco offers the finale with an inspired B3 solo that shows that this man’s organ voice is both inventive and very potent. B3 master Joey DeFrancesco has called Marisco “…one of my favorite organists.” and this kind of playing verifies his respect.

Probably the funkiest of the songs on this plethora of fun and moving music is Marisco’s composition “Jack-Pot” which is another homage this time to jazz organ great Jack McDuff. This one just gets into an infectious groove that just won’t kick. The gang starts with guitarist Pao who continues to surprise with his inventive language and formidable chops. Monteiro’s piano is just smoking and worth the price of admission. No wonder why Monteiro is called “Singapore’s King of Swing.”  He is also the go-to pianist for name artists playing in Asia. Marisco’s organ work on this one is just classic, steeped in  the style of veteran B3 legend McDuff ,who is a Marisco inspiration.  

“Catastrophy,” a "going to the races" composition that has the band stretch out and features some nice drum work by Kelley> The closer “Wish Washy” is a soulful end of evening piece that Marisco uses at his home performances and was recorded by the band remotely during the pandemic from worldwide locations including Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, and Italy.

The real closer to this album is the soulful live performance from London featuring some down-home blues by Miz Dee Logwood, just a treasure to hear sing on Etta James’    “I’d Rather Go Blind” which she just owns with sincerity and grizzle. The band, Marisco, Monteiro, and Kelley set the stage like a throne for the queen Logwood, and she rises to the challenge regally. Pao rips out a fantastic guitar solo that goes from soft and soulful to fiery and screeching then back again, inspired by the whole simpatico of this great performance.

Be assured Jazz-Blues Brothers is sure to give you many hours of enjoyable music listening.