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Three excellent, new, small ensemble jazz albums due for release on March 4.

Music Reviews: Adam Smale, Jon Di Fiore, Fernando Ulibarri

Adam Smale – Out of the BlueAdam_Smale_Out_of_the_Blue_Cover-200px-1

Canadian seven-string guitar dynamo, Adam Smale makes his U.S. album debut with the March 4 release of Out of the Blue. Working with Tri-Fi, an established trio featuring pianist Mathew Fries, bassist Phil Palombi, and drummer Keith Hall, he plows through a nine-tune set consisting of eight original compositions and a reworking of a Wayne Shorter piece, “Yes and No.” He opens and closes the album with two tunes—“New Start” and “Original Sin”—played in trio format. In between, the quartet romps.

They do some sweet up-tempo work on “Autumn Confirmation,” a witty conflation of Bird’s “Confirmation” and the changes to the classic “Autumn Leaves,” and “NYC Love Affair,” a love song to the guitarist’s new home. “She Knows Me” is a gorgeous ballad played with touching lyricism, while “Jazzenco” adds an exotic note with its nod to flamenco.

Smale and company have put together a musically vibrant program from first note to last. Out of the Blue is an album with a kick.

Jon Di Fiore – Yellow Petalsyellow petals

Jon Di Fiore is a composer with definite ideas about his music. On the one hand, it needs to push the envelope. When it does so, it needs to sound beautiful. This is not a musician interested in modern noise. Yellow Petals, the new album from the drummer’s trio due out March 4, is a case in point. There are nine tracks on the album. Each and every one reflects the leader’s unique musical voice. The trio (Di Fiore is joined by bassist Adrian Moring and pianist Billy Test) has been playing together for four years. They are obviously all on the same page. They know what Di Fiore is looking for, and they know how to make it happen.

Right from the album’s opening number, an adaptation of Chopin’s “Prelude Op. 28, No. 4″ Di Fiore calls “Demise,” it is clear that the listener is in for something a bit different. Not that jazz artists have never worked their magic on classical compositions. They certainly have. Not that they haven’t been influenced by classical composers, they have as well. What is special here is the depth of the expressive commitment.

Other standout tunes include the lyrically melodic “Live for Tomorrow, Forget Today,” which runs almost 10 minutes and is filled with fine improvisation, “Silver” (inspired by the music of North Africa), and “Orange” (inspired by the music of Spain).

Fernando Ulibarri – Transformfernandoulibarri

Transform is another guitar-led quartet album scheduled for a March 4 release. Here it’s led by Florida-based guitarist/composer and full-time faculty member at the Broward College music department, Fernando Ulibarri.

Ulibarri provides a two-fold description of what he was trying to do with the album’s original music. Pointing to the example of jazz greats like Wayne Shorter, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane, he says his goal was to compose “songs that stand on their own, but also establish compositional unity throughout the album.” It is an aesthetic that allows for a good deal of improvisational freedom in a controlled format. The quartet has a definitive sound, and that sound—at times ethereal and other worldly—is always dominant. It is a thematic color that is introduced in the short “Prelude” that opens the nine-track set.

While I found the whole album tuneful, one song in particular, “Paisajes,” keeps haunting me. Perhaps because its piano opening reminds me of the work of Erik Satie, perhaps it is for the exploration of the thematic material. Whatever the reason, I found myself returning to the track again and again. This is not to give short shrift to tunes like the dynamic “Spot On,” which closes the album, the sensitively introspective “Maldito Tiempo,” or “The Left Side,” a more traditional swinger.

Piano and keyboards are in the hands of Jim Gasior. He and Ulibarri play off each other with true understanding. John Allen plays upright bass and John Yarling is on drums. It is a tight group.

About Jack Goodstein

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