Massimo Biolcati and his new CD Incontre is my first review for 2020, and over the holidays I had at least a couple of light-hearted conversations about which jazz genre would take over from Tangorama 2019. This album from bassist and composer Biolcati is straightforward quartetin’–just saxes and keyboards and drums. It’s very classic in every way, and it got me thinking if a return to the basics could be The Next Big Thing. I hope it is, and that’s not a knock against any of the other genres that have taken turns dominating contemporary jazz over the last few years. But I’m not sure if that’s possible, about purity and focus being an actual trend. Sure, retro is a trend, but I’m not talking about retro. I’m talking about the real stuff. Stuff like Incontre.
As Massimo Biolcati explains, “It’s been ten years since my solo debut Persona and I finally decided it was time to record some of the music I have been writing and performing over the years.” That seems like a simple statement, but this is where the heart of jazz lives, bottled up for years and working itself out slowly over time without ignoring spontaneity. Think about those musicians, the ones who are so busy on tour that they often can’t stop to take a snapshot–one reason why live jazz recordings are just as beloved, if not more so, than studio creations.
I don’t want to be misleading here–Massimo Biolcati is totally game when it comes to taking chances. This isn’t one of those albums that can best be described as reverent or too respectful to tradition. (The lyrical cover of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” would certainly feel anachronistic, in that case.) With a few minor switch hitters–Dayna Stephens plays three different saxes, and pianist Sam Yahel occasionally hops behind a Hammond B-3–Biolcati’s ensemble can approach the material from different angles. Drummer Jogkuk Kim is a chameleon, and he’s quick on his feet. This is not one quartet doing one thing for an entire set.
Perhaps that’s what Massimo Biolcati is tossing into the New Year’s festivities, something that would be new right now if we had to start from the beginning. With the classic be-bop of the late ’50s and early ’60s, there was always a sense of discovery, of wandering straight into the heart of chaos and pulling something out that made sense. Massimo Biolcati walks through these landscapes confident and secure, omniscient only when it comes to the past. As I rummage through the review pile, I’m finding more of this type of jazz–just jazz, the kind that gets to the heart of the matter.