Michael Musillami Reviews:
Trio "Pride" Downbeat October 2014 ****
by Sean J. O'Connell
Musillami Trio + 4, "Mettle," Advanced Jazz for Septet/Gapplegate Guitar and Bass Blog, Feb 15, 2012
jazz composer, bandleader. Any one of these things is tough
enough to do when you are putting forward an advanced sort
semi-electric jazz, as is Michael Musillami with his Trio + 4 and their
album Mettle (Playscape 070111).
Yet Micheal does all these things rather
exceptionally well. His trio of self, Joe Fonda, bass, and George Schuller,
drums, has held together, gigged and recorded a fair number of albums so
far, getting more intensely together, tighter
in a telepathic sense. Now
they bring in four additional soloists/ensemble members for a quite
There isn't a single slouch in the bunch: Matt Moran,
vibes, Russ Johnson, trumpet, Jeff Lederer, tenor & clarinet,
Rothenberg on alto & clarinet. They add much in a collective and solo sense
to the music.
of course you have the formidable, keen-edged sensibilities of the trio
as backbone. Musillami plays a grinding, driving
post-fusion guitar with a
sound, rhythmic push and inventive notefulness that puts him on his own
plane. Fonda and
Schuller work together with a beautiful free-swing
The compositions are weighty, the arrangements
strong, the band cooks, the
soloists get torque collectively and individually.
It's a bit of a monster. A
nice monster of a set. Get it.
Jazz Guitarist Michael Musillami Laments Son's
Death In Moving 'Old Tea'
By OWEN McNALLY
Special to The Courant- May 1, 2010
*In "Old Tea," a collection of 11 jazz trio compositions, guitarist and educator
pays tribute to his son, Evan, who took his life a year ago.
The title refers to the father and son's practice
of regularly having a cup of tea together.*
When all attempts at rational explanation failed,
guitarist Michael Musillami turned to music
as a way to express his inconsolable grief over the death of his beloved
son Evan, a gifted 29-year-old
who killed himself last March.
The album "Old Tea" is his moving,
masterful suite of guitar trio music released last week on Playscape Recordings.
More than just a requiem, Musillami's
compositions are simultaneously a lamentation for the loss of a son and
a celebration of his life, vividly recalled
in a series of 11 affecting songs that Musillami, a longtime Connecticut
favorite, says are "like a prayer
at a shrine."
"You hear about these things and always think it only happens to
other people, other families and never to you.
But it happens, and it's as bad as it gets," Musillami says
by phone from the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, where
he's founder and director of the prep school's jazz studies
A former Connecticut resident, Musillami has deep ties to the state, from gigs at Hartford's legendary
in the 1980s to recent performances at such noted new music venues as New Haven's Firehouse 12.
He and Ev, who had moved back in at the Musillami home in Longmeadow, Mass., for the past 2 1/2 years,
Father and son enjoyed each other's company, bonding through their shared sense of humor and
passion for creative expression. They were collaborators in the family business, Playscape Recordings,
a noted record company that Musillami founded in 1999.
Ev, who was gifted with computer skills and an
encyclopedic knowledge of high-tech graphic matters,
handled the design and artwork for Playscape, whose 40-disc
catalog is distributed in Europe and Japan,
making it a role model for all indie jazz labels catering to avant-garde
"More than 300 people came to Ev's memorial service and were so moved that they didn't want
Musillami recalls from that dark period of shock and mourning he shared with his wife and four
"What I learned from all this is that there is no right thing to say. People would offer condolences,
words of wisdom, but everything seemed to fall flat.
"To be honest," he continues,
"I retreated into the music, which just seemed to be a more honest way
to deal with grief because, ultimately,
there is no explanation."
For Musillami, his creative process — his skills as a virtuoso guitarist and
inventive composer and arranger
— became his grieving process.
Having recently returned from a
triumphant tour last year with his sextet, highlighting their acclaimed album
"From Seeds," Musillami
was initially too weary and grief-stricken to begin writing an extended elegy.
But he eventually found that "channeling"
his grief through creating a musical portrait of his son seemed to
be a solution of sorts.
When he finished
composing his tribute to Ev, the next big psychological and ethical stumbling block he faced
was whether his homage
was so deeply personal that it should remain forever private.
After many skull sessions around the kitchen table
with his wife about what to do with the finished work,
they decided that a recording would be "a beautiful
tribute" to their son.
"Old Tea" is an affectionate nod to the fact that father son often shared
cups of tea together, a ritual they
delighted in on a regular basis.
"We were told 'Old Tea,' a
Taiwanese form of oolong, is considered the best of the best, and in January 2009,
with help from a Vietnamese
student at Hotchkiss whose uncle is one of the few remaining traditional tea
producers in Kaohsiung, we ordered
some," he says.
"It arrived in May, just weeks after Ev took his own life."
began composing, he settled into a symbolic tea ritual, starting every day by brewing a pot
of Old Tea and then
toasting Ev with a cup.
While they could no longer share the daily ceremony physically, they did so in a spiritual
way, he notes.
At the recording studio, Musillami and his two longtime collaborators, bassist Joe Fonda and drummer
George Schuller, also toasted Ev's memory with cups of Old Tea as a symbolic communion bonding the
in their collective expression.
Musically, what Musillami and his collaborators have created is a work whose deeply
touches everyone with its universal themes of joy and tragedy, its use of art as a path toward
sadness and despair.
Musillami has never played with more impassioned eloquence, mixing moods
of profound sadness with sonic
snapshots of bright moments from Ev's life. His compositions provide a full, rich
portrait of his son, capturing
his irrepressible spirit of youth and the open-mindedness of "a diverse cat,
a smart guy who would listen to
everybody, from Béla Bartók to Tom Waits."
trio is in itself a finely tuned musical instrument for its heady mix of composition and improvisation,
will display on its upcoming European tour.
Fonda, one of Musillami's closest friends since the native Californian
first set foot on the Connecticut music
scene in the 1980s, is always there with the right, heartfelt note at the
Schuller, a drummer and composer, creates swirling rhythmic colors that are the perfect complement
musical pulse and Musillami's injections of body and soul. It's sure to resonate with anyone profoundly
by the death of a loved one.
•Information: michaelmusillami.com or playscape- recordings.com
Copyright © 2010, The Hartford Courant
In March 2009, guitarist Michael Musillami's son,
Evan, took his own life at
the age of 29. During the months that followed, Musillami composed a book of
by and dedicated to Evan, which make up Old Tea, the fifth
release from his veteran trio. Named after Lao Cha, a rare
form of Taiwanese
Oolong, Old Tea refers to a pastime Musillami and his son often enjoyed
a good cup of tea. Aided by the empathetic contributions of
his venerable sidemen, bassist Joe Fonda and drummer
Musillami celebrates Evan's life on this vivacious session, avoiding maudlin
Each piece on the album is titled after and inspired by specific memories of
his son and/or events experienced by his
family during their grieving
process. Expressing his emotions in music beyond words, Musillami plays with
intensity that is unassailable. While Musillami has long
avoided needless EFX, he occasionally revisits the distorted
tone he used
briefly on his last record, From Seeds (Playscape, 2009), using it to convey
an array of extreme tonalities.
Musillami employs such devices more effectively and economically than most
guitarists, understanding the dramatic
value of restraint. The title track
is indicative, as Musillami suddenly interrupts the tune's dreamy panorama
a searing volley of anguished tones and epic arpeggios. His dark,
blues-inflected attack on the angular funk of "King
Alok" is especially
ardent, as he dives into careening salvos of staccato notes with focused
The process of grieving encompasses a variety of emotions, and these
cathartic outpourings are counterbalanced
by poetic works of understated
introspection and lilting swing. The sublime tone poems "Kitchen Tribute
Interlude)" and "Evy-Boy" are prime examples of the trio's
congenial rapport and sensitive interplay.
The dulcet closer, "Three Hundred
Plus" demonstrates their dynamic range with a flute driven ballad that is
serene as the aforementioned "King Alok" is volatile.
Even though Musillami's angular writing
can be quite intricate (as on the
labyrinthine "A True Original"), his compositions always retain a sense of
accessibility—balancing coiled phrases, oblique intervals, and unorthodox
meters with a bluesy character. Perhaps
unsurprisingly, the blues play a far
more significant role here than many of Musillami's previous releases. His
solos on "A True Original" and "Umbrella Top...That's How I Roll"
are exemplary, rooted in a pentatonic
straightforwardness that is far more
lyrical than his usual intervallic approach.
As a tradition built upon
lamentation and perseverance, there is hardly a
better form to memorialize a lost loved one than the blues. Despite the
tragic circumstances surrounding its conception, Old Tea, a heartfelt and
poignant work, stands tall in Musillami's
Track listing: Introduction; Old Tea; Shiner At Rocky's; The Binary Smirk
(Drum Interlude); King
Alok; Kitchen Tribute (Collective Interlude);
Evy-Boy; A True Original; Jameson #30 (Bass Interlude); Umbrella
How I Roll; Three Hundred Plus.
Guitarist Michael Musillami composed
the music for this program in the wake
of his son Evan's death. The fact that it's measured and profoundly
is testament to what music can do, and the fact that it's so
superbly realized comes down to the fact that this trio
empathetic. Five recordings to date are testament to why this is, and of
these this is arguably the
one that hits the spot most resoundingly.
Knowledge is sometimes a debilitating thing and it's hard to get over
circumstances outlined above until the music hits. The leader's opening
notes on "Introduction" are
both tentative and focused in a manner that
comes only from knowing that he's in convivial musical company. Fonda's arco
work is right in the mood even though this is a lot more than mere mood
music. The two men are caught in a mutually
reflective state of mind, but as
the music gels it becomes clear why this group works so well. In thinking as
all three players retain their musical identities in a fashion that's
nothing short of extraordinary.
At Rocky's" is, by contrast, an exercise in kinetic oppositeness.
The leader is not a man for trotting out the clichés
of jazz guitar, and
this one makes clear that his tone as much as any other element of his work
is a mark of his
individuality. This is something he has in common with Mary
Halvorson in the sense that his slightly percussive attack
makes for clean
articulation, with his notes spinning out in a manner bounded by inexorable,
Variety is one of the names of the game, too, and on "A True Original"
Musillami's fondness for tricky,
intricate unisons with Joe Fonda again
rises to the surface before the bassist's dark vamp acts as an
springboard. George Schuller's rhythmic displacement becomes
the third voice in the trialog, at which point it becomes
clear that this
unit is in essence a collective endeavor.
In this regard, one could argue that the group takes
a cue from the trio
work of pianist Bill Evans, with all the dissimilarities in dynamics.
How I Roll" exemplifies this dissimilarity,
especially as it's Fonda's bass around which the music coalesces. Schuller's
use of brushes seems at first to be at odds with the momentum the other two
generate, but then the subtleties of the
ensemble effort comes into their
own as a positive affirmation of the human spirit.
Para celebrar el décimo aniversario de Playscape Recordings, su capo, el
Michael Musillami ha aumentado su trío (Joe Fonda -contrabajo-,
George Schuller -batería) hasta sexteto
con la incorporación de Marty
Ehrlich (saxo alto), Ralph Alessi (trompeta) y Matt Moran (vibráfono). Seis
composiciones preparadas teniendo en mente a estos músicos son las que
componen From Seeds, que es el título
de esta fiesta de celebración.
Ancladas en la tradición de un hard bop contemporáneo, en el que
querencias a Monk o a Ornette Coleman, el grupo funciona como tal a un
extraordinario nivel. No sólo
en los correspondientes solos, sino también en
los arreglos, que a pesar de ser intrincados y angulosos en más
momento, el grupo desarrolla con una gran naturalidad. Alessi y Ehrlich
están, como suele ser habitual,
a gran nivel, favorecidos por el espacio que
el papel que sus instrumentos les otorgan como solistas. Por su parte,
Moran, Schuller y Fonda están en un papel más secundario, pero perfectos en
el caso de estos dos últimos
a la hora de trabajar como soporte rítmico del
grupo. Musillami puede resultar una sorpresa a quien no lo conozca
su papel de guitarrista como de compositor.
En cuanto al disco, hay varios momentos más que
notables como "Splayed
Fingers" (a tiempo medio y con cierta querencia monkiana), o el blues
Hysteria Blues". Sin embargo el momento más sobresaliente tiene
lugar en el tema que da título al
disco, en el que Musillami emplea una
guitarra distorsionada. Su magnífico solo sirve de trampolín para
y Ehrlich se despachen con sendos solos extraordinarios.
A "Fair" TRANSLATION...
To celebrate the tenth anniversary of Playscape Recordings, the boss,
guitarist Michael Musillami has increased his
trio (Joe Fonda, bass, George
Schuller-drums) to a sextet with the addition of Marty Ehrlich (alto sax),
(trumpet) and Matt Moran (vibraphone). Six compositions
prepared with these musicians in mind make up "From Seeds",
the title of
this feast of celebration.
Rooted in the tradition of contemporary hard bop, which appear to Monk-ish
or Ornette Coleman-ish, the group functions at an extraordinary level. Not
only in the corresponding solos, but also
in the arrangements, although they
are more intricate with angles, the group performs with great naturalness.
and Ehrlich are, as usual, at high level, helped by the space that
the role given their instruments as soloists. Moran,
Schuller and Fonda are
in a secondary role, but perfect in the case of the latter two to work as a
rhythmic. Musillami may be a surprise to those who do not know
his work as both a guitarist and composer. As for
the disc, there are
several times more than such notables as "Splayed Fingers" (half-time and
Monkiana), or blues "Wisteria Hysteria Blues." But the most
outstanding is the issue that gives the album title,
which employs Musillami
a distorted guitar. It also serves as a great springboard for Alessi and
Ehrlich when released
with two extra solos.
Michael Musillami Trio + 3 | Playscape Recordings (2009)
di Vincenzo Roggero
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Ci sono musicisti che vivono lontani dalle luci della ribalta, che operano
all'interno di un territorio limitato,
latitano dai grandi eventi e dai
festival più rinomati, non fanno tendenza, ma sono riconosciuti come veri
maestri dai propri colleghi e producono della gran musica. E' il caso del
chitarrista e compositore californiano Michael
Musillami che con questo From
Seeds aggiunge un altro tassello importante alla sua produzione non certo
Lo storico trio con Joe Fonda e George Schuller è rinforzato da Matt Moran,
Ralph Alessi e Marty Ehrlich.
Come dire, non è solo questione di numeri
(trio + 3 ) o di arricchimenti timbrico/dinamici, ma vi è l'apporto
musicisti poco avvezzi a fungere da semplici comparse. Così che il lavoro di
arrangiamento di Musillami
ha dovuto misurarsi con equilibri prettamente
sonori ma anche con forti personalità, in una sfida ricca di stimoli
Il free bop, che funge da trait d'union ai numerosi pensieri musicali del
trova nuova linfa grazie ad una scrittura articolata, pensata per un
organico così particolare. Gli arrangiamenti
sono un interessante miscela di
ortodossia sintattico/armonica e libertà espressiva. La chitarra del leader,
solitamente asciutta, minimalista, in bilico sulle tonalità, si carica in
questa incisione di forti accenti
blues, fino a varcare i territori
dell'hard rock nella splendida title track. E la cosa funziona perché ci
pensano vibrafono, tromba e sassofono a inserire nell'esecuzione piccoli
accidenti, interventi solistici borderline,
trame armoniche di illuminato
L'album si chiude con "Bill Barron," dedica affettuosa
ad un musicista dalle
grandi qualità e dal pensiero artistico mai pienamente apprezzato. Un velato
Visita il sito di Michael Musillami Trio + 3.
Valutazione: 4 stelle
Elenco dei brani:
01. Splayed Fingers; 02. Go-Go-Goosebumps; 03. From Seeds; 04. Wisteria
Hysteria Blues; 05.
Graphite; 06. Bill Barron.
Tutte le composizioni e gli arrangiamenti sono di Michael Musillami.
Michael Musillami (chitarra); George Schuller (batteria); Joe Fonda (basso);
Marty Ehrlich (sax alto); Matt Moran (vibrafono);
Ralph Alessi (tromba).
Stile: Modern Jazz
Michael Musillami Trio + 3
BY JIM MACNIE (Village Voice)
The engaging guitarist puts the strings in the
background on From Seeds, a
horn 'n' vibraphone date that provides a clearer picture regarding Musillami
ensemble ambitions (while tipping the late to mid-'60s Blue Note beauties
such as Bobby Hutcherson¹s Components).
He¹s concocted something provocative
with brass and reed squalls scripted as part of the program¹s architecture,
and his own instrument is positioned as a courageous through-line,
stealthily marking each track. Expect something
vivid on the stand.
10 of 2007 lists
— Mark Corroto, allaboutjazz.com
— Robert Iannapollo,
— Richard Kamins, Hartford Courant
Hale, JazzHouse.org/Coda/Village Voice
— Jack Cooke, Jazz Review
Troy Collins, allaboutjazz.com
Top 10 of 2007 list (DVD)
F. Turner, allaboutjazz.com
...Musillami is someone who pairs tremendous technique with a great
wealth of ideas as a musician and as a composer. Feldman is phenomenal as usual. But the rhythm section is the most important
trump card of this group...they subtly steer many of the swinging solos of Musillami and Feldman with perfectly timed accents.
— Mischa Andriessen, jazzenzo.nl (translated from the Dutch)
...[Feldman's] wit, inventiveness
and ability to dig into the rhythm mark him as an ideal Playscaper. This makes him a good match for the leader, whose playing
is always appropriate but never predictable. It's great fun to listen to, and on the evidence of a very nicely done companion
DVD, great fun to play, too.
— John Chacona, Signal to Noise
six compositions provide Feldman with freedom, and he responds with some fiery, keening solos that contrast with his more
circumspect work on John Zorn’s songbook or with guitarist John Abercrombie. Most striking is the 13-minute "Beijing
to Brooklyn," which moves stealthily from Schuller’s rattling percussion intro to Musillami’s moody solo
over a pedal point, and concludes in a dervish-like outing by Feldman and a hard-driving guitar riff reminiscent of John McLaughlin.
— James Hale, Downbeat / 4 Stars ****
Musillami is a patient, chopsy guitarist, a straight-ahead
yet probing improviser whose complex writing and playing shows evidence of lots of hard work. Likewise his trio with Fonda
and Schuller is a close-knit and highly experienced unit. His compositions develop in leisurely style from quiet simplicity
to intricate complexity, and the ensemble playing is civilised, sophisticated and clean.
— Jack Massarik,
The music is accessible but full of verve, showing a lot of energy and creativity without getting
wild. Musillami’s relaxed, cleanly inventive style fits nicely with Feldman’s bright, pouncing violin. A very
fine set; recommended.
— Fo, KZSU-FM (Stanford, CA)
Guitarist Musillami is really on
a roll lately, documenting a number of high quality sessions on his Playscape label. On his latest, Musillami's longstanding
trio is augmented by the always-exciting Feldman...from the get-go, there's great tonal contrast between the two primary players,
with lively interaction suspended over the agile rhythms of Fonda and Schuller. A real winner.
Mark Feldman's violin sings, inspired joy flowing through every legato phrase he plays...Musillami,
an adroit and creative musician, also creates enchantments...[his compositions] are packed with goodies: long, complicated
threads of melody, condensed into tight space so that tension practically bursts through every measure.
J. West, JazzTimes
The results are scintillating and provocative, striking a delicate balance between
thoughtful, through-composed music and intuitive, freewheeling extrapolation...while there is a definite sense of discipline
inherent in each piece, there's also a prevailing sense of unfettered risk-taking throughout. Their unbridled stretching on
expanded versions of three tunes—"Human Conditions," "The Treatment,"and "Brooms" [on
the accompanying DVD]—further demonstrates the remarkable group-think of this empathetic quartet.
Milkowski, Absolute Sound
The music is challenging, but not daunting. It asks you to pay attention,but
it doesn’t chase you away. I highly recommend this recording.
— Neil Tesser, Listen Here!
Publisher's Pick (September 9th, 2007)
— Michael Ricci, AllAboutJazz.com
irony: This is music that's complex without being difficult, so approachable there's almost a need to wonder if it's not just
a little too welcoming—shouldn't it be harder to deal with? The answers no, actually—it's to do with the perceptiveness
of the participants, plus effortless techniques that the wealth of detail emerges so precisely. Plus, OK, a quite beguiling
— Jack Cooke, Jazz Review
Guitarist Michael Musillami’s new disc,
The Treatment (Playscape), is an adventurous program that's taken up a notch by the presence of animated violinist Mark Feldman.
— Time Out New York
...the real action happens in the solos—violinist Feldman couldn't
play a banal phrase if he tried, and he brings puppy energy to the opening "Brooms", while "Stark Beauty"
apes his more lyrical side. Fonda and Schuller are creative and sensitive by default...
— Philip Clark,
Feldman is a violinist of awesome technical and improvisational abilities, bringing a singular
mixture of classical and avant to any project with which he is involved. Fonda and Schuller provide both depth and breadth—Schuller
has never been so delicate without sacrificing his trademark intensity and Fonda is a sonorous glue, plucking and bowing all
over his bass. As his ponytail and goatee have lengthened so has Musillami honed and formed his sound: idiosyncratic melodies,
flawless technique and an energetic attack set against unusually-metered rhythms.
— Elliot Simon, AllAboutJazz-New
Musillami sounds familiar — this is swinging jazz guitar, after all — but not quite like anyone
— John Garelick, Boston Phoenix
A resourceful, golden-toned guitarist and adventurous
composer, Musillami is on a roll thanks to his excellent new recording, "The Treatment," on Playscape Recordings...[it]
crackles with a keen sense of interplay that never quits. Shifting tempos and charged vamps inspire bright, intelligent chamber
jazz spiked with an emotional edge. Both formats [CD and DVD] catch the four quick-witted, empathetic players at the top of
their game, as fluent in expressing emotions close to the heart as when exploring wholly new sonic turf.
McNally, Hartford Courant
...The Treatment is his best record yet, and the chemistry of his trio—with
or without Feldman—makes it one that more people need to hear.
— John Kelman, AllAboutJazz.com
Feldman, the most in-demand violinist of contemporary creative improvised music, fits in seamlessly with Musillami's
veteran trio. Seeing musicians of this caliber in action makes apparent how intricate the ensemble charts are and how intuitive
their level of interaction truly is.The Treatment represents an intensely rewarding and conceptually promising avenue for
the future of jazz that is accessible and exploratory in equal measure.
— Troy Collins, AllAboutJazz.com
While the immediate draw here is the interplay between Musillami and Feldman, repeated spins draw you into the compositions
themselves and the supporting players, Schuller and Fonda. Musillami has a knack of presenting his compositions in a highly
digestible format. His complex writing never bogs down into distraction, largely due to a bright rhythm section that solos
and accents with equal measure as the front line.
— Mark Corroto, AllAboutJazz.com
new recording is bloody wonderful. Definitely will be airing this CD a lot.
— Maurice Hogue, CKUW-FM
...one of the most impressive releases of 2007...most certainly one of Michael Musillami's finest moments on record.
— Richard Kamins, Hartford Courant
A truly superb effort throughout.
Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery
This is as convincing a statement of what’s still possible
with the instrumentation as anything I’ve heard in years. A stylish, compelling group, who’ll be worth catching
whenever they get a chance to showcase this material.
— Brian Morton, PointofDeparture.org