Saxophonist Matt Criscuolo is one of those jazz musicians that pushes the envelope, but not so far that he necessarily leaves behind the less adventurous listener. His latest album Headin’ Out follows in the aesthetic footsteps I first heard in his fine 2013 release, Blippity Blap. His music is built on a foundation of inventive improvisation but doesn’t ever make it all the way to the furthest borders of free jazz. It is music that takes off with new ideas, but only after it has been grounded in form.
Take, for example, his composition “At Night.” It begins much like a noir ballad, but morphs into an elaborate deconstruction of the form, finally petering out at the end. There seems a similar transition from form to free improv, although in a different context, in his treatment of Miles Davis’ “Sippin’ at Bells.” Criscuolo seems quite willing to give listeners something to hold onto, before taking them along on a wild musical journey.
He is joined on that journey by guitarist Tony Purrone, who also contributed two of his own exciting originals—“Karma at Dharma” and “R 510 Select”—to the set. Both tunes are creative romps, “R 510 Select” especially, as it moves rhythmically all over the place. Preston Murphy works on bass, and Ed Soph handles the drums.
The album’s nine tracks include four Criscuolo originals, the two Purrone pieces, Randy Weston’s “Little Niles,” and a really effective reading of Billy Strayhorn’s “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing.” This last one in a sense demonstrates Criscuolo’s bona fides. As an old art professor of mine once opined about modern avant-garde artists, first it is necessary that they demonstrate that they have the basic skills to paint realistically before they tear it apart, else how do we know that they do what they do not by choice but by necessity.
Criscuolo and the talent he has brought together on Headin’ Out have the chops to play the tradition. If they take the avant-garde route, they do so by choice, not by necessity. These are musicians who buy into what they are doing, and the music they produce is challenging.
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