Michael Bisio’s New Tricks

Old Dog — By Any Other Name (Porter, 2009)

source:emusicBassist Michael Bisio seems like the de facto leader of this quartet, since he did the composing on half the tracks. The other half are group improvisations, though, some of which coalesce into grooves and rhythms that feel composed. Maybe that’s why the band got assigned a group name.

More likely, it’s because all four members are old dogs, veterans who probably got a chuckle out of giving themselves that nickname: Louie Belogenis (sax), Karl Berger (vibes/piano), and Warren Smith (drums).

Together they’ve assembled a nice session of modern jazz with accessible composing that’s just this side of abstract, and solos that are given free rein. It’s the kind of music I’d associate with Bisio, especially, at least on his albums as a leader.

The title track, written by Bisio, is a real treat. It’s slow stuff, a cross between lovely and foreboding, with the curtain opened by a twisty bass theme. The track, played without Berger, opens the album — but it’s reprised at the end of the album, with the full quartet, and that version is an even better treat. Berger’s vibes add a welcome depth, and on this longer version (9 minutes versus 6 for the opening track), Bisio takes a terrific solo, warbling and wandering in pizzacato mode behind quiet vibes and drums.

There’s plenty of fire as well. Belogenis gets into grumpy, sour-toned mode for “Round and Round,” the group improv that starts off abstract but ends up in an irresistable groove. He gets to contribute a towering, power-sax sound for the 11-minute improv “Constellation,” which later settles into a splashy vibes solo.

As for the other compositions, “Swa Swu Swi” is an ear-catching fast piece that sets up with a dribbling bebop theme before plunging into a free-jazz ride. “Zephyr Revisited” has a more unusual, halting theme but builds into what could be considered a nearly traditional soloing space. The group improvs do shine here, but I think Bisio’s put together a strong set of compositions, too.