Line up: Mark Guiliana – drums, Jason Rigby – tenor sax, Chris Morrissey – double-bass, Fabian Almazan – Piano
The sold out gig of Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet at Ronnies is something I have been looking forward to. There is an atmosphere of excitement, a slight frisson in the air, the audience has a good mix of young looking faces too.
The young Mark Guiliana and his fellow musicians step onto stage on time, they start playing and, straight away, one realizes they sound even better live.
Picture the scene: a dark night landscape, a road only lit by a starry sky, but it’s cold out… this is what the opening track, “1980” evokes.
On track 2, “From You” the pianist, the super talented Fabian Almazan, bends over the keyboard to extrapolate notes of wonder and excitement. Reminiscent of a Picasso painting of the late period where most things are angular and, at times, unusual, but where if one looks carefully, it is just those particular shapes that create a different perspective, a different view.
The following composition, “Beautiful Child” (Rufus Wainwright) sees the first major input of shy-looking saxophonist Jason Rigby. He looks shy, he hesitates before playing, but it is clear that his concentration levels are very high.
A lot of space is given to the piano and the sax in this quartet, it works. This group of musicians work wonders together, there is an incredible free-flowing enthusiasm, notes are flying, heads are nodding: the perfect atmosphere is created.
A little talk from the very reserved and modest Mark in between tracks tells the audience that “back in 2004, Avishai Cohen played here at Ronnies and I was very young then”. To explain: Mark Guiliana, drummer, producer, composer, educator and founder of the record label, Beat Music Productions, has also collaborated with Avishai in recent times. Remembering this collaboration, Mark tells the audience he is very thankful and goes straight into playing a rendition of “Johnny was a good man” by the great Bob Marley. Mark and Co dedicate this to the late John Taylor.
This is indeed a moving interpretation of the Marley song, where tender notes are created by Jason Rigby on sax. There is tenderness in this portrayal.
And then, raw, pure, classy improvisation in the middle of it, leaves one stunned.
Another track from Mark’s new album, “Family First”, released in June this year on his own label, Beat Music Productions, is the evocative “Long Branch” (after the beach in New Jersey where Mark tells the audience he got married).
Chris Morrissey, on bass, needs a special mention: he strikes his chords with eyes closed. There is such intensity and concentration there. It is utterly moving.
The second set sees the prominent playing of bass man, Chris Morrissey, on “The Importance of Brothers”. Chris is left alone on stage: notes are played with subtlety and a tone of impending doom, then a sudden stop and the band starts playing together again at the sound of Mark’s drums.
Creating an ambience out of nothing is pure class, an ability which is rare to see these days.
“ABED”, another track from “Family First” is a show of innovation, one watches Mark play and one would be excused for feeling rather exhausted, He has so much energy and yet it all looks so easy especially when Jason Rigby on sax keeps on tearing the notes away against Mark’s drumming as it happens on the night!
Another special mention is due: Mark’s solo on this composition where the rest of the Quartet have stepped aside and are looking on to the man with the drums, respectful, silent, in awe.
Mark is “channelling some Elvin (Jones)” as he says after this particular track. Elvin Jones is one of his heroes.
The title track of the album, “Family First”, a motto to “which I’d like to live by” Mark tells the audience is next. The piano is crying and the sax is quietly playing. An incredible and tender piece, it brings shivers down the spice for its sheer simplicity and elegance.
“One Month”, which on the album is the first track, it closes the show tonight.
It’s ovation time, the end of the set or is it? The crowd is still standing, clapping wanting the four musicians back. Time for one more?
On returning to the stage, the four men seem to be charged to the maximum potency.
A few words spring to mind:
Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet = Outstanding