This is the recording debut for co-leaders guitarist Skip Grasso and bassist Phil Ravita. Each of the nine tunes was written by a band member in the quintet that also features saxophonist Benny Russell, pianist Greg Small, and drummer Nuc Vega. Four tunes are from Grasso, two apiece from Ravita and Russell and one from Small comprise a colorful array of contemporary but mostly straight-ahead fare.
They open with Grasso’s highly melodic title track that has flowing and unpredictable solos from Russell (soprano), Small, Vega and prominent guitar from the author. The brisk tempo of that tune melts into a relaxed jazz waltz, another Grasso tune, “Her Life Incomplete,” where he is the prominent voice along with his co-leader. Russell contributes the buoyant “Songhai,” imbued by his own soulful and aggressive tenor solo with some themes reminiscent of those Blue Note albums from Kenny Burrell. Ravita keeps the bluesy tones flowing on his own energetic “Blue Sunshine,” marked by his own especially rapid bass statement and riveting saxophone from Russell who alternates between tenor and soprano.
Inspired playing continues with Small’s “Circles,” a balance of mild funk and introspection reflected in the piano and soprano solos, rendered passionately by Russell, who often threatens to steal the spotlight from the co-leaders with his imaginative and provocative solos throughout, perhaps the apex of which is his warm, soprano on his own ballad, “All About Cynthia.” Grasso comes back with two more – the urgent, epic “Latin for Leandro” and the more concise “The Homecoming.” Ravita’s joyful, exuberant “Chasing Shadows” which has some themes reminiscent of holiday tunes (maybe this writer is still stuck in that mode) closes this formidable, colorful, energetic debut.
Yes, these names are new to this writer and likely to most of us, but they hail from the DC/Baltimore area and can be heard there in various settings. Grasso, for example, often plays solo and Small, who also plays trumpet, like Ravita and Vega, is an in-demand session and live performer. Russell has led an all-star orchestra (the New York Association), worked with the Next Legacy Orchestra, produced concerts, and written several notable commissioned pieces for large ensembles. Let’s hope that this auspicious debut leads to more recordings from these five talented players.
- Jim Hynes