The Chris Crocco Fluid Trio + is the second outing by the terrific threesome fronted by the Virginia born-New York based guitarist Christopher Crocco, an imposing sequel to his impressive debut disc The Chris Crocco Fluid Trio. As on his first album, a bassless trio outing, Crocco is joined by his longtime friend and mentor, saxophonist George Garzone and Cuban expatriate, current McCoy Tyner drummer Francisco Mela, along with the addition of the very capable bassist and frequent collaborator Peter Slavov. In the years since the release of their first cd the music created by Crocco, Garzone and Mela has since developed into, in the words of Crocco, “this amazing sound and power,” noting that “we all seem to speak the same improvisational language.” Slavov has joined each of them on many occasions in the past, thereby making him the perfect plus to augment the Fluid Trio.
Crocco confesses that the album was recorded without a concept - just the desire to record the best performances of the new music he had composed since the band’s last effort. “It was time,” he says, “but when I finished it was easy to see the titles, music, and overall vibe was a result of my own personal catharsis.” Much the result of his studies with Garzone, Crocco has come to realize that his musical objective is to find “the truth” within his art and hence he has abandoned many of the stock improvisatory tricks that often lead many artists (guitarists in particular) away from their own true identities. The resulting record is a more honest expression of the real Chris Crocco – a personal statement of his original music that reveals the true artist behind the music.
The opening track “Avenge” finds the full trio + quartet jumping right off to the races, playing an intricate uptempo line with a vengeance, guitar and tenor doubling the rhythmically charged melody in a manner reminiscent of the work of iconoclast pianist Lennie Tristano, while exchanging phrases with Mela’s drums. Each of the group’s member’s virtuosic capabilities are demonstrated with taste and rest.
“Heaven,” featuring the guitar-bass-drum trio of Crocco, Slavov and Mela, is a three tonic modified minor groove piece in the Coltrane tradition. More devilish than heavenly in mood, the tune’s loping tempo is exquisitely executed by Mela, whose assimilation of Elvin Jones’ asymmetrical drum patterns into his own personal polyrhythmic style makes him one of today’s truly original stick men. Deceptively simple and restrained, the piece which spotlights the solo work of the leader and Slavov evinces a quiet intensity that is one of the hallmarks of the date.
Crocco’s “Silvia” – the sequel to his first album’s “To Silvia (Don’t Say Goodbye)” – is described by the composer as “the end of the novel.” A feature for the full quartet, the brooding melancholy melody, at times reminiscent of Horace Silver’s “Peace,” showcases the beautiful tone of Garzone’s tenor.
“When It Is When” again features Crocco’s guitar in trio format with Slavov and Mela. A progressive groove that borrows from the standards of the leader’s generation opens with Crocco strumming a repeated lower register melodic line that iterates a matadorial strength and splendor, buoyed by Mela’s splashing cymbal work. Chris’s solo finds him venturing into an eastern tinged abstract impressionism that hearkens to the relatively unheralded work of guitarists Gabor Szabo and Atilla Zoller.
The moody swinging “Trial of Time” marks the return of the quartet with Garzone and showcases the remarkable middle register work of tenor and guitar, with Chris shining brightly with a full rich tone and a relaxed bluesy feel. Calling the piece “a composition that relies on a pocket swing with a floater melody on the end,” he astutely notes that “time is relative and can be bent.”
“What It Is” is a straight ahead blues by Crocco played with Slavov and Mela on bass and drums. Played at a blistering tempo it demonstrates the leader’s uniquely personal voice, avoiding the clichéd improvisational devices that lead most guitarists’ solos to predictable places. The interaction between Chris and Francisco reveals the intuitively perceptive relationship built upon years of experience that allows for a disciplined freedom that leads the music to new and interesting places.
The minor melody “Spice Mine” is another Coltrane inspired Crocco composition. The dramatic Spanish tinged line opens up into inspired solo statements by the composer and Slavov, with Mela’s AfroCuban styled drumming constantly interacting to shift the contexts within which they are heard.
“Metal” is an entirely free improvised guitar-drums duo completed in just one take. Constructed from Crocco’s opening guitar vamp it features the sound of Mela’s cymbal on top of his snare, which is emphasized in the title. Chris notes that the feeling is “like when we first met.... two people playing as solid as one.”
Crocco’s “My Own Personal Wake” is an introspective piece that begins on a reflective note that recalls “Monk’s Mood.” The painterly composition unfolds over the featherlike canvas of Mela’s brushes, with Slavov’s bassline lending an Americana flavor that can be found in much of guitarist Bill Frissell’s finest work.
The closing “My Peace” is a duo between Crocco and Slavov, a configuration the two have played in frequently around New York. Hymn like in mood it is an indication of the harmony with life that Chris found in his music.
The Fluid Trio + is an important new statement from Chris Crocco. With the able assistance of George Garzone, Francisco Mela and Peter Slavov he demonstrates major advances in the development of his own musical voice. One that is personal, flowing and seeking nothing more than the truth.