Massimo Biolcati is somewhat of a quiet giant. This is revealed not only by the elegant way in which he handles his double bass but is furthermore expressed by his humble personality on-stage as well as off. So much for the quiet aspect. Why a giant? Raised in Italy and Sweden, Biolcati graduated from both the prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz and Berklee College of Music, where he met his Gilfema bandmates Lionel Loueke and Ferenc Nemeth to form what has become one of today’s most exciting jazz trios. Besides having studied and performed alongside pioneers such as Dave Holland, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and John Scofield, Biolcati is a much-desired sideman, and released Persona (ObliqSound), his debut album as a leader, in 2008. Not to mention his skills as a programmer, which helped him in creating the ingenious music app “iReal Pro.” Incontre sees the all-rounder return as a leader after a more than a decade-spanning gap, and finds him in very good company. Another Berklee associate Dayna Stephens joins on saxophone, Sam Yahel plays keys and Jongkuk Kim the drums, on a balanced mix of originals and covers.
The Biolcati original “Hello, I Lied” sets the mood for the record, which is both exploratory and comfortable. A funky pulse introduced on bass is picked up by tight drum work and gives the sax and the piano room for conversation. Throughout the record, the interplay between the four is flawless and driven, making it an especially coherent set. The title track and other Biolcati-penned tunes (“Fellini” and “Birthday Song, Almost”) follow a similar formula as the opener did, though at a more lyrical pace. “Birthday Song, Almost” is a late highlight on the record, featuring a joyous melodic finale to a fun drum workout. Surprisingly, it is not the only birthday song on the album. Thelonious Monk‘s “Boo Boo’s Birthday” gets a pretty straightforward treatment as does the Charles Mingus original “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love.” Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” is an unexpected cover and also the most accomplished one. As on the Mingus take, Yahel switches to organ and delivers tasty sustained spreads to compelling soprano squeals. Drums and bass are in the mood to jam. A very tasteful rendition of a classic that is everything but easily recognizable—especially when compared to the succeeding take of the Tears for Fears song “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” whose very first two chords reveal the tune. The band’s transition to a driven walking-bass swing for the chorus adds a nice spin to an otherwise slightly conservative take on the song. With “How’s Never” Biolcati also pays homage to his idol, fellow bassist Dave Holland, featuring an appropriately prevalent thumping bass groove and more juicy organ phrasings.
Incontre doesn’t rewrite the rules, but rather demonstrates Biolcati in his most comfortable environment, doing what he enjoys doing most with a cast of musicians he knows and admires. Contrary to provocative or challenging efforts, this record sways to a comfortable beat and wraps the listener in cozy sounds. Repeated spins make it all the more familiar and enjoyable.
Track Listing: Hello, I Lied; Boo Boo’s Birthday; Smile; Everybody Wants To Rule The World; Duke Ellington’s Sound Of Love; Incontre; How’s Never; Fellini; Birthday Song, Almost.
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