By Marshall Zucker, Jazz Improv Magazine

Although the title of the CD is Nick Russo+ 11, the largest number of musicians that perform on any one track is six, and there is even one piece with only three participants. With the exception of that one trio piece, there are basically two different groups performing the pieces on this CD. There are also additional musicians participating with each of the core groups. After this participant description, I do wish to add that the musicians involved were highly dedicated to performing Mr. Russo’s com positions with great depth, sincerity, skill, and originality.

The “odd piece out,” briefly described as performed by a trio, “Little Hands,” has Russo on his one appearance on tenor banjo, Pleasant on his only appearance as percussionist, and Griffith on one of his three performances as vocalist. The singer and Russo perform a duet with increasing intensity leading to an abrupt ending. It is certainly different than any other piece on the CD (or any other that I have heard.)

One of the two groups feature music that is a bit more “contemporary” to my way of thinking than the other. “Moy Zaichick,” the first appearance of this group of musicians starts with a bass-drums funk opening with Hirahara’s entrance on Fender Rhodes at first disopinted and impressionistic, and then moving into a nicely rhyth mic solo. Saxophonist Turner has a sound of his own, by way of Young-Getz-Cohn-Sims. Drummer Dyson provides varying rhythms in his accompaniment. The ending is an extended vamp with the drums featured. “Ro” starts with guitar and bass interaction, then guitar-voice (using wordless lyrics) to start the piece (which then gets rather animated.) Tenorist Turner’s solo with Hirahara’s acoustic accompaniment is very effective. Mitsvah (sic?) also has a wordless vocal, and adds a tabla. The piece is modal, and the drums/tabla interplay is a highlight. “Please Come Home(for Sgt. Alec Pekoff”) closes the CD. An electronic drone with the tabla starts the piece. This is the one piece more than any other that allows the listener’s mind to wander. The bass establishes a harmonic pattern. The musicians give the impression that they do not want the piece to end. It is, I am sure from the title, a very personal statement.

The four pieces performed by the other core group are heavily in the tradition of highly swinging melodic music with well thought out harmonic underpinnings, and they are performed excellently. “Triggered” begins the CD with segments having varied tempos. In both the moderate and up-tempo sections, bassist Clohesy and drummer Dyson work together throughout in propelling the piece during the numerous changes that take place. The melody statement is lovely, and I am sorry that it is not repeated more often. The Fender Rhodes solo is terrific, and it refutes the belief of some that it was a sound for the 1970’s. This piece in particular has great depth. It is the type of music that I want to hear the significance of each moment. “Dinda” is a beautiful Bossa Nova propelled at a moderately slow tempo. There is a quiet depth to the piece that becomes increasingly greater continues. Bassist Clohesy gets a big sound during his solo, and Russo’s accompaniment is especially sensitive. “Un titled” is a moderately slow piece. Trumpeter Glass man has a beautiful sound. Harmonies are of great interest. Russo demonstrates a slight Grant Green sound. The group’s final performance is “Mmm,” a post-bop 12 bar blues.

Russo writes very well, and knows how to make all members of the group highly necessary to each performance. The CD is highly successful in its compositions, but even more so in how each member of the group uses every moment.

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