Review by Brad Walseth
An inventive guitarist who deserves considerably more recognition for his work over the years creating modern music that is both challenging and a delight to listen to, Michael Musillami put together a supergroup of sorts for the recording of "Fragile Forms." Drummer Matt Wilson is all over the place these days, thanks to his uncanny ability to create on the fly in any situation. Bassist Drew Gress is a mainstay of NYC's avant garde scene and is perhaps best known for his work with Tim Berne. Pianist Peter Madsen, originally from Racine, WI, has played with a slew of greats ranging from Stan Getz to Oscar Brown, Jr., to Ravi Coltrane, and he seems to be the perfect counterpart to Musilami in his intelligent approach to harmony and his ability to play music "inside" and "out."
Describing this music isn't easy, as it combines and contrasts angular themes with aggressive outbursts, sudden tangents with sections of improvisation and meditative quietude. The album opens with "Seven Blend" which skitters around like a caffeine buzz - ever-shifting into surprising tangents. Madsen's piano careens around ferociously before Musillami delivers some truly crazed outside guitar playing. "Brooms," with Wilson's brushes bristling, and instruments gallivanting madly follows, before "Discreet Plucking" gives Gress a chance to show his chops in some give-and-take conversation between his bass and Musillami's metamorphosing guitar, while Madsen's solo is inspired, twisted and audacious.
The band comes inside a bit more on "Emmett Spencer" - a lovely ballad Musillami has recorded before, and the results are sparkling. Meanwhile, the fun-filled "Ernie the Neck" is tough, swaggering and bluesy - a perfect fit for a song about Mussillami's Great Dane.
"RobMac" is a subtle interlude, before the band breaks into the title track. "Fragile Forms" is 7:10 of a mix of composed and improvised interplay between all members that is the centerpiece of the album. All the musicians show their stellar skills here, and Wilson nearly steals the show with his explosiveness on the drum kit. "Beijing" is another piece previously recorded, but this version features Wilson's expressive support and array of sounds. Gress' bass work is strong, and Madsen again proves he is a pianist who should be heard more with his fearlessly original playing style. Musillami's guitar sound is clean and there is perhaps a touch of Joe Pass in his chording, but for the most part his style is his own. His playing is strong and highly original, but he gives room in his intriguing compositions for his fellow players to share in the spotlight. This recording grows on the listener the more you listen to it and is highly recommended for people looking for new jazz music that will transport you to another plane of listening pleasure.