|One Final Note Review I admit that what attracted me initially to Italian pianist Achille Gajo's Blue Sand was the chance to hear one of the music's stellar rhythm teams in a new setting. Bassist Jean-Jacques Avenel and drummer John Betsch have provided the rhythmic spine for Steve Lacy's bands since the drummer enlisted them 15 years ago; it's been a fruitful partnership. Gajo is wise to tap them to provide the close-knit interplay for his session.
Gajo plays lush post-bop impressionism that owes something to Jarrett, Corea and Hancock, as well as their forebearer Bill Evans. He loves to let his lines swell and recede, infusing them with a melodic sweetness at the core that is characteristic of Italian jazz. This is most evident on the title track: The melody shifts back and forth into a folk blues feeling, and Gajo maintains that structure throughout his solo. By giving the bassist the first solo on the track, Gajo has the chance to build his improvisation into the theme restatement for a logically and emotionally satisfying conclusion. The next track "Korail" follows on its thematic heels. Gajo employs Avenel's kora, an African harp-like instrument. Betsch here is at his most impressive, gently filling in the lowest register with tender bass drum padding that accents the melodic phrases.
Gajo also knows when to keep things simple, as on his cover of Carla Bley's "Ida Lupino". He lets the wisp of a melody float over Avenel's counterpoint and Betsch's malleted rolls and swishes. "Ida Lupino" and Abdullah Ibrahim's "Mountain of the Night" are the only covers on the 10-song set. Gajo is responsible for the other compositions, but not all are as felicitous as the title song. Some tread too familiar territory, and the ballad mood wears on the ear as the set progresses. The trio does have a couple opportunities to swing hard on "Test" and the closing "Shark Waltz", a melodic cousin to Hancock's "Dolphin Dance". Betsch, who spends much of the session using brushes, gets a chance let loose here. Avenel shares the solo spotlight throughout with Gajo, often setting up the leader with firm melodic lines. Gajo provides the ingredients of a very pleasant date; Avenel and Betsch add the musical spices that make it more savory.