People fawn over Mark Guiliana. They should– he’s a spectacular drummer. He has a tremendous energy about him when he plays and he’s been a modern living legend to the young folks of jazz coming up in this era who have gone gaga over his playing long before he got the call from the late David Bowie to play on Blackstar. It’s only now that even more folks are aware of his greatness. However, this greatness is multi-faceted. Sure, he can be known for his raucousness, but as a bandleader, he’s much more composed than one would expect. The signs of this have been clear in his jazz quartet alongside tenor saxophonist Jason Rigby, pianist Fabian Almazan, and bassist Chris Morrissey. The Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet are tight group and their sophomore release, Jersey, cements this vibe for them.
The most noticeable quality about this group is how cohesive they are. Much of the notion about the quartet’s restraint comes from the fact that Guiliana isn’t some no-holds barred driving force at the front of this band. Rigby is a direct player, effusive but never ornate. “September” is like a low rumble where Rigby’s sax floats over it all. Fabian Almazan sounds like he’s comping, even when soloing. Chris Morrissey is a fantastic supportive bassist who knows the angles of these songs and never strays too far from their intent, especially when he wrote two of the compositions. Ultimately, this is a group that plays with purpose. They’re a jazz group in the truest sense, never noodling around or getting out of hand on the album because the directness with which the quartet plays these songs, particularly in the more somber moments, like the push and pull of “Big Rig Jones” or the triumphant march of the title track, executes a balance that shines.
By the time the album reaches a somber end with a version of David Bowie’s “Where Are We Now”, originally from the aforementioned Blackstar on which Guiliana played, that balance and semblance of swelling emotions hits the peak for which the group was aiming. Jersey has all the feel of the next movement after the MGJQ’s first album, Family First, just a bit tighter. It’s a group named after its drummer leader but this work is from all four of these guys and it shows. There’s balance all over.
Jason Rigby – Tenor Saxophone
Fabian Almazan – Piano
Chris Morrissey – Bass
Mark Guiliana – Drums
Vocals on “Where Are We Now?”: Gretchen Parlato, Jeff Taylor, Jason Rigby, Fabian Almazan, Chris Morrissey, Mark Guiliana & Marley Guiliana
Produced by Mark Guiliana
Recorded October 27-28, 2016 at The Bunker Studio in Brooklyn, NY
Recording Engineer: John Davis
Assistant Engineer: Nolan Thies
Mixed by John Davis
Mastered by Alex DeTurk at Strange Weather Recording Studio, Brooklyn, NY
Jersey, the Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet’s sophomore album, is out now on Motema Records.
Nextbop Editor-in-Chief Anthony Dean-Harris hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on 91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio and is also a contributing writer to DownBeat Magazine and the San Antonio Current.