GRProject (Gabriel Riesco Project) – Sculptures in Time (Tribute to Chillida) – WUC, 52:55 ***1/2:
(Gabriel Riesco – guitar, producer, arranger; Nir Naaman – alto saxophone; Roy Assaf – piano; Chris Smith – bass; Colin Stranahan – drums)
Guitarist Gabriel Riesco’s sophomore release, Sculptures in Time, is a friendly jazz outing that showcases Riesco’s compositional talent, guitar skills and his leadership role. The eight tracks – all written by Riesco – are straightforward and meld elements of traditional jazz, the lighter side of fusion and bit of smooth jazz.
The project as a whole is a tribute to Spanish Basque sculptor Eduardo Chillida, who was celebrated for his large abstract works which suggested tension and movement, despite their often imposing and massive size. In their own way the GRProject [No connection to GRP Records…Ed.] gives homage to Chillida’s vision and ideas, furnishing frameworks that interconnect the players as well as the audience in a way similar to how Chillida’s outdoor installations engage viewers.
Riesco has performed in Latin jazz, fusion and jazz big bands and worked with numerous artists in Florida, Boston and now New York City. For this engagement, Riesco put together a proficiently likeminded quintet that reflects his versatile background. Saxophonist Nir Naaman is an Israeli musician who now calls New York home and has performed with Joanne Brackeen, Steve Gadd and others. Pianist Roy Assaf, another Israel native, also has connections to Brackeen as well as Kenny Werner, Danilo Perez and more. Drummer Colin Stranahan is from Denver, has studied with Ron Miles and released his debut before he was old enough to vote. Rounding out the combo is bassist Chris Smith. Together, the five artists complement and encourage each other across 50 minutes of swinging music.
The bop cut "Chillida" is one of several highlights. The nine-minute piece moves between mid and up-tempo territory and enables the players to show their ability. Naaman commences the tune with a burnished solo, followed by a harmonically rich Riesco improvisation that reveals his speedy phrasing, flair for swing and finger picking dexterity. Assaf then takes the center spot, responding to the quick changes while displaying a sophisticated taste. Around the 6:30 mark Stranahan contributes an ambient drum effort that briefly switches the arrangement into something spacey. "Chillida" ends as it starts with memorable melodic lines.
Riesco’s Latin experiences govern the appropriately titled, upbeat "Simba’s Samba." The infectious groove is seasoned by a soulful Naaman sax workout that is accented by Stranahan’s stimulating percussion. Riesco keeps the strong melody going during his solo excursion, his facility for stretching out adding interest to the warmly-toned cut.
The band shifts gears somewhat on "Africa," which initially sets forth with a late-night mood. The good-natured track picks up momentum after the unhurried beginning, with Riesco exhibiting his dazzling fretboard expertise while Stranahan illustrates a consistently generous but never showy or dominating drum approach. As well, Naaman executes intricate chord progressions in a gregarious manner, demonstrating an energetic flow. Unlike some saxists, Naaman does not try to squeeze too much into his performance but instead is capable of turning even difficult passages into congenial moments.
The record’s axis is the ten-and-a-half minute sortie "Ol For," which is the album’s fullest creation, adroitly shifting from searing sax gymnastics to aesthetic open spaces where ticking cymbals, plucked bass and lingering guitar notes echo. Contrast is the key component. Riesco at different times traverses cool school phrases, slips in some Metheny-tinted fusion and then some fast-paced bop. Naaman leaps and bounds like Parker or Dexter Gordon. Assaf glides across the keyboard during quiet interludes and adds to the firm rhythmic drive during brisker instances.
Riesco’s only misstep is the instrumental pop closer, "Todo claro." Unless one is an Earl Klugh fan (nothing wrong with that, by the way) this may not appeal to some jazz listeners. Its intimate and comfortable but lacks the range or conviction shown on the rest of the material.
Engineer Jeremy Loucas does a fine job behind the boards. He renders a steady, analog-type tone throughout. His production and mix emphasize each instrument and he augments the softer portions of some tunes so that, for example, Stranahan’s brushwork or Smith’s bass notes do not get lost under obtrusive sax or guitar.
1. Seul B
3. Ging Gong
4. Ol For
6. Simba’s Samba
8. Todo Claro
— Doug Simpson