Recent winner of the 2004 International Jazz Workshop at The BANFF Centre in Canada, Guitarist NICK RUSSO leads a rotating cast of characters (Nick Russo, g, ac g, tenor banjo; Art Hirahara, p, el p; Miles Griffith, vcl (3,5,7) Mark Turner, ts (2,3,5); Bryan Murray, ts (9); Greg Glassman, tpt (6,8); Pandit Samir Chatterjee, tabla (5,9); Nathan Peck, b (2,3,5,9); Matt Clohesy, b (1,4,6,8); Willard Dyson, d (2,3,5,9); Ari Hoenig, d (1,4,6,8); David Pleasant, d, perc (7)) on the eclectic “RO” (Nickrusso, no#). Veering from the briskly swinging, multiple time signature post-Bop attack of the opening cut, “Triggered” to the closing free-form modal epic “Please Come Home (for Sgt. Alec Perkoff),” Russo spans multiple styles with diverse line-ups on this varied session (Triggered / Moy Zaichick / Ro / Dinda / Mitsvah / Untitled / Little hands / Mmm / Please Come Home [for Sgt. Alec Perkoff]. 61:08. September 6, 2005 and February 19-20, 2006, no location listed).

At his most relaxed, Russo delivers Brazillian themes, as on the delicate acoustic ballad “Dinda.” The melancholy Hassidic grind of “Mitsvah” raises the energy level, with the post-Fusion work-out of “Moy Zaichick,” one of the session’s most energetic tunes. Along with Art Hirarah’s ubiquitous Fender Rhodes, this track features a lyrical solo from guest tenor saxophonist Mark Turner. “Mmm” invokes the spectre of Miles Davis with Greg Glassman’s soaring trumpet. Conversely, “Little Hands” features Russo on banjo, hammering out a primal, backwater groove over a bed of percussion.

Russo’s collaborators and sidemen are all sympathetic peers in good form, but with vocalist Miles Griffith the session drifts into bizarre showmanship. Griffith only appears on three cuts, but on all three he works himself up into a yodeling, spitting frenzy of hoots, growls, and otherworldly vocalese. If these tunes rose to the level of ecstasy Griffith found himself in the clutches of, then his contributions wouldn’t seem so glaringly disproportionate. As they are, they sit in contrast to Russo’s more methodical concept, derailing any mood already established with his Leon Thomas meets Yamatsuka Eye caterwauling.

— Troy Collins

Click here for a PDF version of the review.