When we last encountered Connecticut restaurateur and alto saxophonist Matt Criscuolo in 2009, he had made an interesting record that supplemented a base jazz quartet with a violin/violin/viola/cello quartet. Melancholia accentuated a crisp, post-bop swing with the stately refinement of a small string ensemble. Blippity Blat has no strings attached, replacing the chamber accompaniment with another slightly unconventional decision in adding a french horn alongside his sax, courtesy of John Clark.
Criscuolo retains his pianist from that prior release, the highly regarded Larry Willis (even paying tribute to him his the appealing original “The Larry Willis I Know”), and Willis grounds the group with a reserved but confident demeanor, mirroring Criscuolo’s own disposition. Clark’s french horn, a tone situated somewhere between a trumpet and a trombone, makes a superb foil to Criscuolo’s liquid resonance and articulation.
This program is a blend of Criscuolo’s tunes with covers that are generally back loaded. The leader’s “Shucking the Cobb” “Somethin’ Like That” swing like the Dickens, “Blippity Blat” struts like Killer Joe and tunes like “Ronnie’s Tune” sport a modern, sophisticated flavor (and one of bassist Gerald Cannon’s acoustic version Stanley Clarke-esque solos). Willis contributes the charged “The Rock” and once again, Criscuolo raids Wayne Shorter’s catalog, giving a very respectful reading of “Dance Cadaverous.” He projects a lot of humanity through his horn as Shorter did on the original, and Willis’ own playing is sumptuous, too.
Serving up a delectable fare seems to be Matt Criscuolo’s specialty. I can’t vouch for the food he offers, but the music on the Blippity Blat is concocted by some chefs who can cook.
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Bippity Blat is due out January 3. Visit Matt Criscuolo’s website for more info.