TESSAROLLO/FASSI/DALLA PORTA/NUSSBAUM

Bemsha
Splasc(H) CDH 731.2

Although Bemsha's name suggests that the Italian combo is going to be a Thelonious Monk revival group like Sphere or Evidence, the touchstones of this more than straightahead session actually seems to be Bill Evans and Jim Hall.

Led by Torino-based guitarist Luigi Tessarollo and powered by American drummer Adam Nussbaum, the band turns out nine originals and one Monk tune in a highly-professional manner, but one that won't enervate anyone the way Monk's music did initially.

Since musician and teacher Tessarollo, who has backed performers as varied as cerebral altoist Lee Konitz and disco diva Gloria Gaynor had already recorded a duo tribute to Evans and Hall, it appears he didn't want to repeat himself. But the overall conception is so un-Monk-like that he should have reconsidered. Especially since the first track is bassist Paolino Dalla Porta's "One for Bill" and it's a cinch he isn't name checking former U.S. president Clinton.

Dalla Porta may have misplaced his admiration as well. Throughout, his hearty background work doesn't recall any of the bull fiddle explorers who worked alongside Evans — or Monk for that matter — but a consummate timekeeper like Paul Chambers.

Unexpected choice for the piano bench is Riccardo Fassi, a seasoned film composer and pianist. While he certainly acquits himself well on his own speedy "Blitz" and with some memorable right hand work on "Algorimito" whose motif is tossed back and forth between chordal instruments, he seems a bit out of place. Someone whose most recent film score featured soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy and Sardinian accordionist Antonello Salis, could have been expected to move the proceeding just a tich leftward. Furthermore, his constantly flowing notes create the least Monk-like piano solos on "Bemsha Swing", while his tune, "For Butch" named for the American avant garde "conduction" specialist Butch Morris, comes across more like "For Pat (Metheny) than anything Morris ever created.

Drummer of choice for many fellow American jazzers, including that country's most prominent guitar Johns — Scofield and Abercrombie — Nussbaum is an inspired choice for this date. Seemingly never exerting himself and proffering brushes as often as sticks, he knows how to showcase a guitarist and is suitably restrained on "This is for Adam", Tessarollo's showcase for him.

Made up of a variety of smoky foot tapers, mellow expositions and slippery riffs that bring Herbie Hancock and Scofield to mind, most of the CD numbers are nothing less than quick moving. And Tessarollo, who has easily internalized the lessons of his chosen heroes, turns out a series of unfussy, well-modulated lines that show why he's respected in the U.S. as well as Italy.

All in all, BEMSHA is a solid contemporary jazz date that chugs along contentedly, professionally and without a hair out of place. There are times though, that you just wish any one of the four would have let his — admittedly sparse — hair down to create something out of the ordinary.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. One for Bill 2. Blitz 3. Dedè 4. Algorimito 5. Stati d'animo 6. This is for Adam 7. La chioma d'Emilia 8. For Butch 9. Gentle Walk 10. Bemsha swing

Personnel: Luigi Tessarollo (guitar); Riccardo Fassi (piano); Paolino Dalla Porta (bass); Adam Nussbaum (drums)