Jazz guitarist Michael Musillami gives a rare Chicago performance tonight at Skylark

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Michael Musillami Trio
  • Napone Punyagupta
  • Michael Musillami Trio
Pardon the late notice, but I only learned about this concert over the weekend. The terrific Connecticut guitarist Michael Musillami will be making a rare Chicago appearance with his longtime working trio (featuring bassist Joe Fonda and drummer George Schuller) tonight at the Skylark. The band will be joined by Milwaukee trumpeter Russ Johnson, who appears on the guitarist's latest album Mettle, released on his own Playscape label last year. That record—billed to Michael Musillami Trio + 4—also includes contributions by vibist Matt Moran (Claudia Quintet, Slavic Soul Party) and reedists Ned Rothenberg and Jeff Lederer. The core trio celebrated a decade together in 2012, and its rapport is clear in the recordings it's made together.

Musillami moved to the east coast from his native California in the early 80s and cut his teeth as a sideman with hardbop and postbop vets like Junior Cook, Dewey Redman, Curtis Fuller, and Richard "Groove" Holmes, among others, before fostering a community of outward-bound players that included reedist Thomas Chapin and bassist Mario Pavone. That background shows in the guitarist's playing, which is rooted in postbop fundamentals in terms of rich harmony, sharply attuned interplay, and attractive melodic lines, but the band has just as much fluency in hard-hitting angular grooves, wide stretches of free playing, and unusual timbres—Musillami and Fonda joust using weirdly damped, brittle tones here and there.

The guests on Mettle provide extra depth, with Moran piling on harmonies and the superb horn men playing the contrapuntal charts with tart precision and adding variety and heft to the judiciously incorporated solos that crop up. The guitarist has a good sense of scale, mixing short, pithy little pieces with longer performances that allow his bandmates to stretch out. The guitarist dedicated the trio's 2010 album Old Tea to the memory of his son Evan, who committed suicide six months before it was cut; each track references some kind of shared experience they had together, so it's not surprising that many of the performances are emotionally wrenching in that context. Here Musillami extends his ideas a bit more than on the ensemble-minded Mettle, pushing his instrument into overdrive in the closing minutes of the title track with a statement of unmistakable emotional intensity, and bringing an almost blues-rock drive to the theme of "Shiner at Rocky's," but he completely avoids the predictable licks and grandstanding devices you'd expect to follow the head statement.

Today's playlist:

Bonnie Dobson, Bonnie Dobson (Vocalion)
Celano Baggiani Group, Alienology (Trytone)
Nils Wogram & Simon Nabatov, Moods & Modes (Nwog)
Various artists, Times Ain't Like They Used to Be Vol. 7 (Yazoo)
CM Von Hausswolff, 800 000 Seconds in Harar (Touch)

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