Music News & Reviews

Nick Mazzarella Trio plays Outside the Spotlight series

The Nick Mazzarella Trio —Frank Rosaly, left, Anton Hatwich and Mazzarella — plays the Outside the Spotlight series on Saturday.
The Nick Mazzarella Trio —Frank Rosaly, left, Anton Hatwich and Mazzarella — plays the Outside the Spotlight series on Saturday.

Nick Mazzarella Trio

8 p.m. May 7 at Collexion, 1111/2 E. Loudon Ave. $5.

The night of Derby Day is one of the few weekend evenings when the hangovers kick in before the sun goes down.

So for a soulful, adventurous but unimposing coda to Derby festivities, try an evening of world-class jazz, courtesy of the Nick Mazzarella Trio and the long-running Outside the Spotlight Series.

Saxophonist Mazzarella, interestingly enough, is new to the OTS series, even though his bandmates — bassist Anton Hatwich and drummer Frank Rosaly — are esteemed veterans. But the cumulative sound that the trio packs on its indie debut album, Aviary, might surprise many longtime OTS patrons.

There is a generous sense of improvisational give and take throughout the album, but Aviary's six tunes are quite accessible when compared to the more abstract extremes of many OTS performances. Mazzarella's compositional sense is heavily melodic, and the expert lyricism he summons on alto sax is warm and economical (the album is only 31 minutes long).

Two sax voices, in particular, surface in Mazzarella's fine playing. The first is the great Yusef Lateef, whose work is reflected in the meaty, expressive alto leads that guide the neo-boppish stride of the album-opening Quarantine and the focused melodies placed atop the limber, lyrical Pistachio.

The second inspiration is tenor sax titan Sonny Rollins. His love of bright, Caribbean-flavored melodies informs — at least in part — the summery compositional punch of Pescador. The Rollins touch also surfaces on Aviary's equally playful title tune before it spins off into spacious improvisations that emphasize keen group communication.

Hatwich and Rosaly continually complement Mazzarella's sunny sax expression throughout, although their contributions shine brightest on Eternal Return. There, bass and drums operate more as orchestral colors than as devices of a conventional rhythm section.

It all makes one wish that Aviary wasn't over in a half-hour. But the attributes of swing and soulful accessibility that confidently pilot Aviary should be seen as welcome mats for those unfamiliar with the OTS series.

Do you dismiss jazz as half-baked dinnertime Muzak or inapproachable abstraction? Do you see it as music that has to have the potency (and size) of a big band to properly swing? Then try Friday night's show by the Nick Mazzarella Trio. If Aviary is any indication, its music should be full of lean, inviting but substantial soul. Sounds like a cure for the post-Derby blues to me.

Spotlight on Architects

Saturday's concert by the Nick Mazzarella Trio ends a three-month break in the indie-jazz series — the first concert of 2011 was in February, when the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble performed at the Lyric Theatre.

From that hiatus we go to a break of only five days. The series, now in its ninth year, follows the Mazzarella Trio with a show Thursday at Collexion featuring something new from someplace new, Great Architect.

Whereas many OTS artists, including the Mazzarella Trio, are products of a healthy free jazz/ improvised music environment based in Chicago, the sextet known as Great Architect hails from Charlotte, N.C.

The ensemble is distinctive, too. Its roster boasts trombonist Andy Thewlis, guitarist Casey Malone, cellist/violinist Ben Kennedy, drummer Michael Houseman, lap steel guitarist Tyler Baum and saxophonist/clarinetist Brent Bagwell.

The music on its new album Cultural Games balances improvisational adventures with modern classical accents that shift from the curiously automotive sounding Mean Rag to the prickly guitar and brass ambience of Lonely Aviatrix. (8 p.m. $5.)

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