Ken Serio: Live.... In The Moment (2008)
Ken Serio may not be well-known, but he sure knows how to pick 'em. Live...In the Moment, documenting one night in Montclair, New Jersey, finds this versatile drummer in the company of three more familiar names.
Bassist Mark Egan, perhaps best-known as a charter member of the first Pat Metheny Group, has remained an active player every since, long since emerging from the shadow of Jaco Pastorius on albums including As We Speak (Wavetone), a surprise sleeper hit from 2006.
Guitarist Pete McCann is one of the more intriguing and stylistically diverse guitarists to emerge in recent years, involved in projects including bassist Chris Tarry's group, not to mention his own far-reaching Old Folks (OmniTone, 2006).
Vic Juris, now in his fifties, may be the oldest of the bunch, but he's undeniably young at heartanother guitarist who shows no boundaries in his longstanding relationship with saxophonist David Liebman, and whose Blue Horizon (Zoho, 2004) is an underappreciated small group marvel.
Serio is an empathic ensemble player, taking only a few (but impressive) solos on this set of largely collectively created material. That the majority of this nearly two-and-a-half hours of music with an ever-present pulse is on-the-spot improvised is even more remarkable for its traversing a broad stylistic range. There are traces of Tarantino-inspired surf ("Big Blue Cars"), free-style swing ("Frixin!!!"), bright funk ("Bean Town")even a curious homage to Deep Purple with a stopover at Santana ("Purple Dream").
Throughout, Egan's in-the-gut fretless bass straddles the line between rhythm anchor with Serio and melodic foil for Juris and McCann. Both guitaristsarmed with an array of effects, and acoustic and electric guitarsplay it textural, melodic and, at times, flat-out shredding. That there's a more sophisticated language at work here means that even the traditional Americana "Shenandoah" goes to unexpected places, with Juris throwing in some impressive Lenny Breau-style harmonics to boot.
In addition to a couple of Egan tunesincluding a reprise of the lithely swinging "3 Way Mirror," from As We Speak, that benefits from having an additional instrument to support the soloistsSerio chooses some rarer cover material. Pianist Warren Bernhardt's equally swinging "Blue Lake" features Egan as the melodic lead before everyone gets some solo space, while singer Emiko Shiratori's bossa-inflected "I Wish I Never Met You" opens the second set and her "Tomorrow's Another Day" becomes a visceral, gospel-tinged blues. The quartet's take of Ron Carter's "Eighty-One" builds gradually and inevitably to a powerhouse album closer featuring a furious trade-off between Juris and McCann, with Serio and Egan propelling it forward with serious attitude.
Juris and McCann, both ranging from elegant voicings to rocked-out aggression while remaining unmistakably identifiable, both deserve broader exposure. Ditto Egan and Serio who, alongside the two guitarists, make Live.... In The Moment an early sleeper hit for 2008 that's sure to appeal to fans of guitar-centric jazz unafraid of defying convention, and cross-pollination from a bottomless well-spring of ideas.
Track Listing: CD1: Nigel's Dance; Big Blue Cars; Blue Lake; Frixin!!!; Grandma's House; 3 Way Mirror; Bean Town; Shenandoah; 1000 Words. CD2: I Wish I Never Met You; Sammy's Smile; Belluno Skies; Willamette Valley; The Return Of Doctor Zero; Purple Dream; Swunk; The Grouchy Sleeper; Tomorrow's Another Day; Eighty-One.
Personnel: Vic Juris: guitar; Pete McCann: guitar; Mark Egan: bass; Ken Serio: drums, percussion.