Ro is yet another release from a relatively unknown jazz journeyman who has been paying (and playing) his dues in the five-borough area; after hosting a series of underpaid late-nite jam sessions, endless society gigs and teaching, guitarist Nick Russo is finally strumming his stuff for the larger arena of jazz fandom. It’s been worth the wait: his impressive debut recording is broad in scope, deep in concept and eminently listenable, giving evidence that the dues are paid up – and earning interest.
The son of a guitarist, Russo is well rounded musically and an accomplished accompanist, composer and arranger. Many of the disc’s tunes have interesting rhythmic structures: “Triggered” contains a double-time bridge that kicks each chord cycle temporarily into overdrive; the title track has a North Indian-influenced 15-beat cycle (3+3+2, 3+3+1), the truncated final pulse having a subtle propulsive effect; and “Mitzvah”, “Untitled” and “Little Hands” all employ unusual beat patterns and/or phrase lengths. Russo’s tone is reminiscent of the classic Grant Greensound, warm with a rounded edge and his melodic concept favors short melodic fragments that connect seamlessly, morphing holistically. Several tracks feature banjo; “Dinda”, a Jobim tribute, is beautifully rendered on acoustic guitar.
Russo draws on the talents of Miles Griffith (voice and hand drum), Mark Turner and Bryan Murray(tenors), Greg Glassman (trumpet), Art Hirahara (electric and acoustic piano), Nathan Peck and Matt Clohesy (basses), Willard Dyson, Ari Hoenig and David Pleasant (drums) and Pandit Samir Chatterjee (tabla), employing these able accomplices in a variety of configurations. Of particular note is Turner’s understated elegance on “Moy Zaichick”, “Please Come Home” and “Mitzvah”, the latter containing dynamic contrapuntal dialogue between tenor and tabla; and Griffin’s ecstatic scatting which breathes life and warmth into “Ro”, “Mitzvah” and “Little Hands”.
The CD sendoff party at 55Bar was well-attended by Russo’s extended family (genetic and musical); the program duplicated the recorded track order and featured the complete cast of characters, save Peck. Griffith swooped and whooped like a vocal stunt pilot, Russo demonstrated a well-honed tone and tasteful craftsmanship and drummer Dyson let the lions out of the bag. But the most interesting moments were collectively realized, as during “Mitzvah”, “Little Hands” and “Please Come Home”, when the front line instruments converged their attention on a mantralikegat (in Hindustani music, a cyclic melody) while the ‘rhythm’ section expounded and expanded.