Michael Musillami Trio

PSR #020505

Confounding expectations, guitarist Michael Musillami adds a couple of twists to this otherwise exceptional classic guitar trio album. There’s the off-putting title and the fact that his basic combo – bassist Joe Fonda and percussionist George Schuller – is joined by pianist Peter Madsen on two tracks, tenor saxophonist Tom Christensen on one, plus those two and trumpeter Dave Ballou on “Dachau”.

Blighted by its association with the nearby Nazi concentration camp, Dachau is the German city where ironically Musillami felt the trio members’ musical ideas really fused. You can hear that in three of the selections, as the guitarist’s unique chording structure brushes up against Schuller’s unforced time-keeping and Fonda throbbing bass line. Longtime Musillami associate Madsen makes his presence felt on numbers like “Part Pitbull” and “Today the Angels” where his cascading chords and modal voicing push the others into tempo switching face-offs, including staccato guitar licks and exposure of the drummer’s bell and shaker add-ons.

With all hands on deck, the title – and longest – tune surges from a beginning featuring moderato tempo guitar chording and undulating stop-time fills from the horns, widens to include soaring trumpet grace notes and cascading runs from Musillami that speed up indolent theme variation, then reassembles into creating an evocative, multi-hued finale.

This CD won’t wipe Dachau’s nightmarish associations from history, but, for sophisticated jazz fans at least, will give the name a more positive association

— Ken Waxman