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 Café 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.

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