Cadence Jazz Records CJR 1150

Grafting another voice onto an established aggregation can either be a recipe for disaster or the spice needed to make the resulting concoction even taster. This CD of new collaborations between Swiss saxophonist Mathias Rissi and the duo of his countrymen pianist Guerino Mazzola and percussionist Heinz Geisser is unequivocally an example of the later.

Not that Mazzola and Geisser have been standoffish in the past. The two, who first began working together in 1994 and have concertized on their own in Korea, Japan and Mexico have recorded with such Americans as guitarist Scott Fields, violist Mat Maneri and saxophonist Rob Brown. Geisser was a member of the Collective 4tet with bassist William Parker, and both men played in a 16-piece big band under Rissi’s leadership.

But as the trio concept has slowly ripened over the course of several CDs, this band has developed the cohesion generic to another bass-less trio — Cecil Taylor’s 1960s combo with Sunny Murray and Jimmy Lyons. Still, Geisser is more restrained than Murray and Rissi closer to John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders on both of his horns. Mazzola’s creations do seem close to Taylor’s — with a dash of McCoy Tyner — especially when he unleashes his full strength on the keyboard. But his asides and sporadic inside piano excursions owe more to intellectualism of contemporary classical music. That’s also not surprising for someone who pursued postdoctoral research at the universities of Paris and Rome and has published five books and over 70 papers in the fields of math, topology, brain-research and computer music

Lucky he’s wearing his jazz/improv hat here, for this emotional music, well recorded in a Milan studio, doesn’t appear to draw much on advanced mathematics, brain properties — and definitely not from computers. Instead the three musicians are as live as they’ll ever be, playing off each other’s talents with the practical judgment of comrades who have internalized the others’ moves.

On the title — and longest — track, for instance, the saxophonist’s exertion in a steaming late-Coltrane mode is offset by the traffic circulation cymbal shimmies and wooden thumps of the percussionist’s kit. Hammering away in classic Energy Music fashion, Geisser accompanies Rissi’s whining double-tonguing, split tones and altissimo-register smears as the saxman goads the pianist into dense, swirling, note-thick retaliation. Tonally, Mazzola’s chords are as dense as Tyner’s, though overall his ascending building blocks of sound reference Taylor’s 1973 and 1974 Montreux Festival solo triumphs. Considering Mazzola is 55, he very likely studied the disc, if he wasn’t in attendance at those Swiss performances.

He’s not all bombs away however, as his two short solo features prove. (Thelonious) Monk-like and unruffled, the highest keys are caressed rather than pummeled and 19th century impressionism suggests itself as well. Peculiarly enough on “Ionomar”, their duo feature, Rissi and Geisser lean towards an outside Afro-Cuban sound, with the saxophonist’s heavy tones emphasizing the Caribbean side , Sonny Rollins, another possible influence, sometimes reveals, and the percussionist’s rim shots resembling those of a conga drum, turning him for a time into a Swiss Mongo Santamaria. This doesn’t mean, though, that Rissi’s triple-tonguing, deep horn shakes and individual inflections vanish under an imaginary tropical sun.

With AQUA, the three improvisers have grown into one many limbed whole and in the process harvested exceptional trio sounds for all to enjoy.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Zuni 2. Verino qu’es 3. Agua 4. Quemaris 5. Ionomar 6. Loliseseinas 7. Kaligandaki

Personnel: Mathias Rissi (alto and tenor saxophones); Guerino Mazzola (piano); Heinz Geisser (percussion)