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Saxman Matt Criscuolo chisels through ‘Blippity Blat’ foraging for clues

Matt Criscuolo “Blippity Blat” album [January 3, 2014 self-produced]


Criscuolo possess a unique tone that often resonates with an inherent stereo sound, bridging a touch of lower register warmth with the alto sax’s altissimo register. —Glenn Astarita, All About Jazz, January 17, 2014

Matt Criscuolo is a mild-mannered restaurant owner with a string of pizza and pasta joints in Connecticut. But he’s also a finely tuned, veteran alto saxophonist and composer with four major solo albums to his belt, including this one.
Julian Criscuolo

Don’t let the album title fool you. Matt Criscuolo’s “Blippity Blat” [January 3, 2014] is anything but nonsense. Recorded in August 12, 2013 at Stamford, CT’s Carriage House Studios, this veteran alto saxophonist’s fourth major solo album advances straight-ahead swing into the post-modernist century in leaps and bounds.

Throughout this self-produced album, Criscuolo impresses with his ability to let it ride with substantive, considered solos by everyone on his recording team, including himself. Instead of riding on top of or beneath, say, bassist Gerald Cannon’s considerably boundless span [“Ronnie’s Tune”], Criscuolo will cut through with his own inquiring saxophonic juggernauts. His probing phraseology compels the others — Cannon, drummer Billy Williams, pianist Larry Willis, French horn player John Clark — to answer the eternal question: “Where are you going?”

The ability Criscuolo has of cutting through the music isn’t limited in scope, either. The mood on the bop-meister, “Ronnie’s Tune,” an ode to the bottom beats, easily transfers over to the ruminative ballad, “Inventiscovered.” Criscuolo plays his saxophone differently each time, chiseling in an upward slant, dying for a key.

All of the songs are originals, save for Wayne Shorter’s “Dance Cadaverous,” Weill & Gershwin’s “My Ship,” and Larry Willis’ “The Rock.” But the covers might as well be Criscuolo originals, heard and played with fresh ears.

The title track goes from an urgent 4/4 straight to a luxurious waltz waver, Criscuolo’s sax wavering righteously, questioning the proceedings all the way. There’s a careening, carefree tone to his play that almost always shakes up the established reverie. He doesn’t just accent the notes, he thrashes them showing just enough tone and exquisite texture to make memories (check out his 2:58 crash, in spite of the piano and bass throwing in). This is a musician who will have his say.

In “Somethin’ Like That,” Criscuolo channels the sexy melody-makers of a bygone era, conjuring up a Coltrane, with a Parker twist. The piece swings into forever, as pianist Willis drips and releases in kind before Criscuolo reinforces the intimate push-back, effectively moody, stirring satin sheets. The Criscuolo-led band does it again in Shorter’s “Dance Cadaverous,” lending pockets of sweeping dissatisfaction amidst luminescent strings of cascading melody.

“Ronnie’s Tune” is probably this album’s best in terms of giving lesser-instrumentalists the time of day. It’s all about the bass here, shifting mood and melody in modal measures. Pianist Willis again keeps tabs, marking time while the bassist bends it in a bouncy solo, 4:19. The play between a preemptive melody surge and the many divergent blends that could follow — taken up in Criscuolo’s chiseled features (2:47) and the flickers of Cannon’s foraging, resounding, gnarled bass (4:22) — keep “Blippity Blat” in good company.

Almost everything Matt Criscuolo plays comes in a question, leading him into some dark and dangerous, fanciful and friendly paths toward an unspoken reach. “Blippity Blat” is a strange name for a straight-ahead album that swings hard, but not entirely unrelated to the strange movements Criscuolo chisels to get ahead. The relief and the answers are in his and his band’s journey, well worth the disjointed enchantment along the way.

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