Matt Criscuolo, Melancholia

By: Jeff Becker

Melancholia, Matt Criscuolo’s third CD embraces the jazz genre sprinkled with contemporary seasonings. Criscuolo self-titles it as top shelf progressive, but I would have to disagree. The CD is way too subdued and introspective for the progressive entitlement.

His credits include work with David Murray, and Etta James, and he counts among his influences Murray, Charlie Parker and Ornette Coleman. For Melancholia, named for a Billy Eckstine composition covered here, Criscuolo is accompanied by pianist Larry Willis, bassist Phil Bowler and drummer Billy Drummond. A small string ensemble joins the quartet on a few selections.
“Pensivity” is one of two Criscuolo originals. The rhythm section creates a subtle backdrop for the altoist to lay his subtle unobtrusive tone over. Criscuolo’s strong suit is pensive pieces, hence why this original cut portrays his understated style so eloquently. His tone is smooth, crisp and cuts through the track. There are brief moments where he reaches for low tones, but overall he keeps it in a comfortable range. Pianist, Larry Willis takes an extended solo, supported by bassist Phil Bowler and punctuated by the cymbals and rim shots of Billy Drummond. Even though the sax wails freely at the end of the cut, Criscuolo never really digs in the way you would hope this free moment would allow him too.

“Ethiopia,” a Willis original, is a place where Criscuolo shines the brightest, his melancholy tone suits this cut and creates an ominous quality; the addition of strings gives the piece an almost symphonic overtone. In general, this seems to be the best suited cut for Criscuolo, his ability to shape a note and color it with beautiful tones is truly his strong point as an altoist.
Overall, I sit on the fence about this CD, I have heard other recordings by Criscuolo and while he certainly is improving with each release, I wasn’t sold on the strings and I would love to hear a real up-tempo burner come out of Criscuolo maybe even two. This CD is suited for a dinner party setting and will not offend in anyway for a background concept.

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