Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Matt Criscuolo: “Headin’ Out” (2015) CD Review

Matt Criscuolo is an excellent saxophone player, whom you might know from his work with David Murray and Harold Danko, among others. He is from New York, and has performed mainly in that area for a few decades. His new CD, Headin’ Out, finds him joined by the seriously talented guitarist Tony Purrone, as well as by Preston Murphy on acoustic bass and Ed Soph on drums. Yes, it’s a great group. And on this CD they do mostly original material. I love the way that Matt Criscuolo and Tony Purrone work together, but also seem to challenge each other to go further, a challenge that is always met. There is also a lot of joy and passion in these tracks. If you want to hear some musicians at the top of their game, doing what they do best, be sure to check out this disc.

It opens with “Enchanted,” an original composition by Matt Criscuolo, which begins quite playfully on guitar. Seriously, the first time I popped in this disc, some of what Tony Purrone does at the beginning made me laugh out loud. It’s a delightful opening. When everyone else comes in, the piece seems to settle into a somewhat relaxed groove. But check out what Ed Soph is doing on drums beneath Purrone’s lead guitar section a little later. He definitely keeps things interesting, and then Matt Criscuolo’s lead on saxophone raises the energy. That track is followed by “Little Niles,” written by Randy Weston. This is one of my favorites. It has a very positive feel, a joyous excitement in each instrument, and toward the end, when Matt Criscuolo is going wild, the others provide a really beautiful base where Matt eventually lands.

“At Night,” written by Matt Criscuolo, has a wonderfully romantic bent. And yet Matt still finds moments to shout out; it’s like a love and devotion so intense that at times it must be proclaimed from the rooftop. And then check out that great work on bass by Preston Murphy. I love the section with guitar over just the bass and drums. It’s like the sax has to rest for a moment, and then when it comes back in, it’s more relaxed, more romantic again (like it climaxed, and now is cuddling). But it’s not long before the energy is back, and he’s ready for another go at the mountain. And then check out how the guitar and saxophone play with each other, work with each other, signaling and conversing quickly, eagerly, and backed by some excellent drumming. What a great tune, another favorite of mine.

While most of this CD is original material, there is also a fantastic rendition of Miles Davis’ “Sippin’ At Bells.”  All four musicians give phenomenal performances, each completely attuned to what the other three are doing at any given moment, seeming to move by a shared intuition, and all at a great pace. There are some fiery moments, and Tony Purrone really shines. I love when suddenly Matt and Tony have a little conversation without bass and drums around six minutes in. And then in the last section of the track, there are a few short and totally delightful drum solos. Really, there is masterful drumming throughout the track.

Tony Purrone contributes a couple of compositions to this disc, the first being “Karma At Dharma,” a track which seems propelled by a driving force, and got me moving. The second, “R 5 10 Select,” by contrast, is a more mellow, thoughtful piece, with some interesting work on bass. And approximately halfway through, it is the bass that leads everyone into a wilder section (my favorite part of the track).

“A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing,” written by jazz pianist Billy Strayhorn, features very cool, mellow vibes on both saxophone and guitar, as well as a good bass solo. The CD then concludes with two more original compositions by Matt Criscuolo – “Centripetal” and “Renée’s Dream.”

CD Track List
  1. Enchanted
  2. Little Niles
  3. At Night
  4. Sippin’ At Bells
  5. Karma At Dharma
  6. R 5 10 Select
  7. A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing
  8. Centripetal
  9. Renée’s Dream 
Headin’ Out was released on March 3, 2015. This is Matt Criscuolo's sixth album.

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