The Chris Crocco Fluid Trio+ – GPA, 50:41 ****:
(Chris Crocco – guitar; George Garzone – tenor saxophone (tracks 1, 3 & 5); Peter Slavov – bass; Francisco Mela – drums)
The sophomore album can be a blessing or a curse. For some, it might be a replication of a debut that pleases some fans but disappoints others. But for some creative types, such as guitarist Chris Crocco, there is no sophomore slump. Crocco’s follow-up to his first project as leader is an opportunity to change things up, widen the musical palette and broaden his personal compositional style.
The title hints at some of the alterations. The Chris Crocco Fluid Trio+ is a quartet on three tracks, where original trio member George Garzone steps in on tenor sax. Crocco’s initial studio foray was a bass-less trio so another important adjustment on this outing is the addition of bassist Peter Slavov, who has supported everyone from Jane Bunnett to Sam Yahel. Rounding out the Fluid Trio+ is Cuban drummer Francisco Mela, who has also performed with Bunnett as well as Garzone and many others.
Crocco maintains there is no theme or main idea that guides or connects his nine new compositions. Rather, his objective was to find the truth in his art: the honest expression that can be elusive to capture. That means the material is suffused with discrete traits and runs the gamut from balladry to barn-burners and from traditional intervals to exotic interludes. The opening salvo is the hectic “Avenge,” an up-tempo number that involves the full quartet. Crocco and Garzone double on a charged-up melody while Mela provides exhilarating rhythmic phrases. The trio piece “When It Is When” has a progressive, modernistic groove. Crocco starts by strumming cyclically with lower-register notes and then Mela moves in with abstract cymbal splashes, while Slavov supplies a reflective bass pulse. As the cut advances Crocco furnishes a Gabor Szabo-ish flexibility that gives “When It Is When” a transcontinental flair.
Much of the music has a melancholic moodiness. The leisurely swinging “Heaven” follows a modified minor groove that utilizes Coltrane-esque conventions. The deceptively calm arrangement contains complex polyrhythms highlighted by Mela’s tempo variations and Crocco’s quiet intensity. “Spice Mine” is another Coltrane inspiration fronted by a lower-toned groove, a vivid Spanish-laced guitar line and Mela’s Afro-Cuban drumming. “Silvia” brings back the quartet in a brooding sequel to “To Silvia (Don’t Say Goodbye),” found on Crocco’s previous trio album. Crocco describes the pleasing character study as the end to a novel with no words akin to the fade-out to a sad romantic movie. The most subjective composition is the meditative “My Own Personal Wake,” an Americana-washed contemplation wherein Crocco mirrors Bill Frisell’s country-creased vocabulary as Slavov also insouciantly echoes Frisell’s bassist Kermit Driscoll.
Surprises abound. “Metal” is a freely improvised guitar-drums duet that was done in one take and is heightened by Crocco’s amplified fusion-linked guitar vamps and Mela’s careening cymbal sounds. The harmonic, hymn-like “My Peace” is a soft dénouement that features acoustic guitar and bass and stands as the record’s most sublime segment.
Crocco is a nimble guitarist who never scuffs the ear or unselfishly takes center stage, although as leader and sole composer he could. Instead he offers a 50-minute undertaking of democratic and sympathetic discernment that bodes well for future efforts.
4. When It Is When
5. What It Is
6. Spice Mine
8. My Own Personal Wake
9. My Peace
— Doug Simpson