Sunday, July 19, 2020

Ricardo Grilli lends his guitar-centered inspirations to changes of time and place

A Brazilian-born guitarist living in New York, Ricardo Grilli has a creative fixation on dates and
Brazilian-American guitarist Ricardo Grilli has a lot on his mind.
settings for his musical practice and development. Without filling in all the evident blanks by which he substantiates this focus, it may suffice to indicate that "1962," his new CD's title, is the birth year of his mother.

The obvious generative force of such an association accounts for much of the music he has set down here with the assistance of tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, pianist Kevin Hays, bassist Joe Martin, and drummer Eric Harland (whose first name unfortunately appears as "Erick" on the album cover).

In "1962" (Tone Rogue Records), Grilli shows the penchant of jazz guitarists to use the instrument to connect with both the vernacular street and the lofty empyrean. An edge-to-edge vista of darkest interstellar space dominates the jacket's design. After some preliminary solo noodling ("1954-1962"), the listener is spirited off to "Mars" as the band jells around the first of the remaining nine originals.

The earthy side is nailed down in "Signs (Blues for Peter Bernstein)," a salute to a fellow guitarist well-established in the current jazz universe. There is a firmly rooted Hays solo to help define the unusual blues theme.

"Coyote" begins to exemplify a recurrent Grilli practice: guitar and saxophone in smooth unison on the theme. It amounts to a signature sound for this band. The flowing samba brings to the fore Turner as a soloist. His presence on the disc lends Olympian calm to the ensemble. Grilli may wish to allude compositionally to disturbing changes in contemporary life, but his muse avoids shocks. Turner is the ideal partner in the way he uses his instrument: Most tenor saxophonists pay energetic tribute to Dionysus; Turner's guiding spirit is Apollonian — a touch aloof, more concerned with bringing light than heat to the bandstand.

Grilli likewise doesn't play with a lot of flash. Outsize display is not his thing, and he doesn't push his instrument often beyond plain timbres. The complications are never about note-spinning, but when they are a factor, it's all for the sake of the ensemble.

Harland kicks "The Sea and the Night" into high gear, even as the mood remains reflective. The rhythmic intricacy has a dash of flamboyance, but it's a well-tended flame.

Another Latin-flavored tune, "Lunatico," named after a Brooklyn bar,  features a perky bass solo. Martin is otherwise in evidence mainly as a serviceable partner to his colleagues.

As the disc stretches toward the program's conclusion, I found the music well-thought-out but maybe too thoughtful. Grilli is a bandleader-composer quite sensitive to his forces, but, even as "Voyager" ends the disc with hints of exploration outside the norm, communication with mission control seems all too devoted.


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