Over the course of covering highly improvisational, highly impressive recordings by jazz notables Ivo Perelman, Brian Groder, Charles Gayle and Matthew Shipp, it’s probably inevitable that we would come across the double bass acuity of Michael Bisio. Bisio has also worked with Sonny Simmons, Joe McPhee and Connie Crothers, but mostly, he’s gained a lot of prominence at Shipp’s side and for good reason: Bisio is one of the most attentive, intuitive bassists around, qualities that make a good fit with Shipp and make Shipp sound even better. But there’s more to Bisio than being a sideman; he’s a force as a composer and bandleader in his own right.
Bisio has done about a dozen records as a leader (and about a dozen more as co-leader) and at this point he hardly has the need to introduce himself. Instead, he’s introducing an idea: building a quintet around himself, a drummer, a cornetist and an accordion player. The accordion isn’t new to jazz, there’s a rich tradition going back to Art Van Damme and continuing to the present day with such forward-thinking performers like Andrea Parkins. Another contemporary, Art Bailey, has teamed up with Bisio for Bisio’s Accortet, along with cornetist Kirk Knuffke and drummer Michael Wimberley. What Bisio and his crew demonstrate, though, is that the squeezebox remains underutilized in jazz, as it sure sounds like a fresh concept in their hands.
Documented on Accortet (out September 11, 2015 by Relative Pitch Records), Bisio’s quartet treats Bisio’s varied, well-contemplated compositions without the need to ponder how to take a unique angle to them, because the de facto replacement of a piano with an accordion pretty much assures that they will. They just do their thing and the rest takes care of itself.
“AM” exploits the festive properties of the accordion to turn the swing of “AM” into a waltz party. Another one of Bisio’s pretty melodies made prettier by Bailey is “I Want To Do To You What Spring Does To Cherry Trees,” full of Old World charm and Knuffke’s horn even ‘sings’ imaginary lyrics with the romantic glow of a young Miles Davis.
Bisio himself looms large even from behind, because of his innate ability to find the harmonic center of a song. He prefers to keep things democratic but when he steps out in front, he maintains his grace and deep melodic sensitivity. For “Henry’s Theme,” he improvises on a parallel path alongside Knuffke, then left alone by the band, he expounds on notions he introduced then, going free, but not off of a cliff. He takes the opposite route on the aforementioned “I Want To Do To You”, introducing the song with an abstract idea and gently easing into a pretty melody.
Some of the maneuvers used in the Matthew Shipp Trio are carried over here. A loose concept is presented at the beginning of “Giant Chase” and functions as a platform for Knuffke and Bailey to converse with each other before each take turns with extended, animated improvs that are subtly guided along by Bisio and Wimberly. On the untethered “Times That Bond”, Bisio plays the “A Love Supreme” bass line and keeps returning to it but Bailey and Knuffke are having none of that, as they persist in following their own muse. In a similar fashion, Bisio creates “Sun Mystery Ra Mystery” out of a hypnotic repeating figure, as the other three step well outside for a while but remain thoughtful.
In short, it’s the interaction among the players using paths least taken that bring life to Bisio’s compositions, no matter how structured or loose those songs are. Like everything else Michael Bisio is involved with, empathy is a key element in making it all work. I like the sound of accordion (and cornet) in jazz very much, but Accortet is much more than just putting together slightly odd combination of instruments. The guys playing those instruments flat out thrive in unusual settings and while they often stretch out, they never lose their grip on tradition.
feature photo: Peter Gannushkin
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