|Versatile guitarist Michael Musillami follows-up his acclaimed May release, Beijing, with the debut recording from his all-star working quartet. A bit of a departure from his many recordings of more experimental original music, Those Times showcases Musillami's under appreciated ability to interpret music as a guitarist and bandleader. Each of the pieces selected, ranging from the standard "It Can Happen to You," to Sam Rivers' "Beatrice," has influenced him throughout his two decade career. "These melodies are part of my musical personality," he writes in the liner notes. "I love playing the standard jazz repertoire."
One Final Note Review: I feel like I owe Michael Musillami a debt of gratitude. It was on his session The Young Child (Stash) that I was first struck by Thomas Chapin's wondrous flute and alto saxophone playing. In reviewing that item (Cadence, March 1993) I noted that Musillami, with a major assist from Chapin, did an excellent job of providing a fresh outlook on a mainstream program of original compositions.
Well, the guitarist is still towing the mainstream and on Those Times, he serves up a set of standards—both from the Great American songbook and the repertoires of jazz masters—with his own title tune as the centerpiece. Again, even while treading ground covered often by others, he crafts the music with care, lending distinctive touches. The opener (Bill Evans' "Comrade Conrad"), for example, begins with Musillami testing out the melody on his low strings while bassist Dave Shapiro and drummer George Schuller keep the time suspended. Then with a single chord, the leader signals a change; Shapiro and Schuller loosen up the rhythm and pianist Ted Rosenthal joins in. As Musillami's darting improvisation proceeds, the drummer gets busier and the pianist moves from comping to counterpoint leading into his own solo. While details like these keep the five quartet tracks from reverting to blowing-session form, Musillami pares down the instrumentation on Horace Silver's "Peace" to a series of solo and duet sections before the full-band closing for another notable change of pace.
The best of the quartet offerings is the title tune. I half expected Rosenthal's introduction to wind its way to the opening strains of some beloved standard. But when the theme comes, stated by Musillami (Rosenthal having stepped back awaiting re-entry at the bridge), it's no disappointment. Rosenthal delivers an eloquent statement, with wisps of lyricism rising from the percussive reiterations of the song's Latin underpinnings. Musillami also interjects two trio treatments of the standards "Angel Eyes" and "Out of Nowhere". These ruminations on familiar themes serve as an effective contrast to the more tightly constructed quartet tracks. Here as elsewhere, Musillami's lines start with a burst of energy that propels his improvisations through the twists and turns of the changes. This approach is even more evident on the buoyant closer "It Could Happen to You"—a happy ending to satisfying date.