This is the first live album release by alto saxophonist, composer, arranger, band leader and jazz educator Bobby Selvaggio. It’s preceded by ten studio albums, the most recent of which was Quantum Man, described as ‘persuasive and moving’ by Downbeat in 2017. Selvaggio himself says he wants to offer a ‘sonic adventure for the listener.’ On this date at the Bop Stop Cleveland, Ohio he’s joined by Theron Brown (piano) Zaire Darden (drums) Paul Thomas (bass) as well as Dan Wilson (guitar) who guests on a couple of tracks. A woodwind section also contributes to the recording, Tommy Lehman (flugelhorn) Liz Carney (clarinet) Summer Cantor (bassoon) Kent Larmee (horn in F).
After a stint in New York’s Manhattan School of Music where he was taught by the likes of Joe Lovano, Bobby Watson, Dick Oates and Maria Schneider, Selvaggio gigged around the city before returning to his native Cleveland. He’s director of jazz studies at Kent State University and is also an alumni of that institution. The son of Pete Selvaggio, virtuoso jazz accordion player, jazz is in his DNA.
The intimate setting of the Bop Stop is a key venue for Selvaggio, one he has played countless times since returning to his Cleveland roots. Judging by the Facebook reviews the place is a bit of a gem and at the time of writing this ballsy venue is open for business despite the lurking menace of Covid-19.
The album comprises eight original compositions. Selvaggio takes what initially looks and sounds like a fairly low key approach to the music, in the video he barely appears to break a sweat. However, this soon proves to be a deceptive first impression as the music takes on a powerful and tight intensity of its own.
‘Times A Changin’ is the first track, it sets off in a pretty smooth vein, the languid approach soon evolves as Selvaggio pushes the tune right to the parameters of its containment. After some pretty neat work, the leader earns the right to step back. This allows Brown’s piano and Darden’s drums an opening, they, in turn, offer up enough space for Thomas’ deftly executed acoustic bass solo. Selvaggio leads the band as they return to the main theme.
‘Run Away’, is a ’60s themed and quite frenetically paced arrangement with Dan Wilson’s guitar having a Grant Green vibe about it. The piece ends with a satisfyingly calm exhalation by Selvaggio.
With ‘Deniable Plausibility’, things get thought-provokingly political with the CIA coined phrase for the art of black ops as a title. It’s in a more sombre mood and Theron Brown gets the chance to plug in his electric piano to add to the sense of melancholy.
‘Spy Movie’ at first seems like a dramatic departure and change of feel, it has echoes, effects and is a contemporary abstract jam of writhing funkiness. Despite its superficial disconnect from the other pieces on the album, the underlying personality of the music is retained providing a sense of continuity.
Selvaggio describes what he feels about live performance, ‘The raw emotion of being in front of a sold-out house and experiencing every note, every moment with a 150 person crowd really sets the stage for a special environment’. For Selvaggio it’s personal and it shows on these great live recordings.