Tom Nazziola Visits Distant Places

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NAZZIOLA: Cat and Mouse. Over the Horizon. Crossing the Line. Red Sky. Bass Palmas. Rochester Suite. Get the Point. Interstellar. Just Passing Through. Pablo’s Journey. Velvet Carnival. The Golem (Overture) / various musicians including Tom Nazziola, vib/udu/bs dm/marimba/pno; Todd Reynolds, Rachel Golub, vln; Monica Davis, vla; Dave Eggar, cel; Terence Goss, a-sax; Dan Willis, sop-sx; Michael Lowenstern, bs-cl; Doug Oberhamer, pno; Freddie Bryant, Jack Morer, Ian Smit, Paul Livant, gtr; Greg Chudzik, Gregg August, bs; Dave Anthony, cajon; Sergio Krakowski, Scott Feinder, pandeiro; Joe Tompkins, perc; The Fillmore Contemporary Percussion Ens. / Digital CD, available via Bandcamp (tomnazziola.bandcamp.com)

Tom Nazziola is a percussionist-composer who specializes in “live film music” (not sure what that is) and jazz. This is his latest release, but my first exposure to him. He describes this album, scheduled for release on August 13, as a tribute to places he has visited, mostly in the past.

Tom NazziolaThe first track, Cat and Mouse, is described as “Bach-inspired.” It is a fast-paced, circular melody line into which he has woven some interesting counterpoint, which he plays himself via overdubbing on three instruments (marimba, vibes, and udu). It’s quite interesting, becoming quite complex as he moves into later sections of the piece. By contrast, Over the Horizon features members of a string trio (violin-viola-cello) who appear to be playing both written notes and improvisation over Nazziola’s marimbas; he even throws in a few bass drum whacks for good measure. The meter is asymmetric and somewhat hard to follow, but if you just let yourself into the music you can absorb it pretty easily as Nazziola keeps the harmony on a pretty basic level. They get into a sort of rock beat, which didn’t thrill me at all, but since they use acoustic instruments I could tolerate it.

The third track, Crossing the Line, is a showcase for guitarist Freddie Bryant, and this, too is a rhythmically complex piece in which the rhythm (played by Sergio Krakowski) leans towards rock, but not too much. For most of the piece the rhythm is pretty straightforward, but around the 1:40 mark it becomes quite complicated for several bars.

By now you get the drift of Nazziola’s composing style: complex rhythmic constrictions around which he weaves lines for various instruments, all of them played at a consistently uptempo but, with the different textures and sounds, entirely different results. Bass Palmas is, obviously, a showcase for the bass player, in this case Gregg August; Red Sky features Jack Morer’s electric guitar, surprisingly in more of a jazz than a rock mode, with a shuffle rhythm behind him. None of the music here is what you would call profound, but it is all superbly crafted and extremely interesting to listen to because of the way Nazziola produces and plays with the rhythm. In the Rochester Suite, he finally adds saxophones to the mix and the opening section, titled “Garbage Plate,” also features a bass clarinet. Despite the small size of the bands used on the individual tracks, Nazziola has a fine ear for proportion, instrumental color, and balance.

The second piece in the Rochester Suite, “Sibley Tower,” is the first ballad we encounter, played mostly by pianist Doug Oberhamer with Dan Willis on soprano sax; because it is only one ballad and does not overstay its welcome, it provides a good contrast to the preceding and following music. Indeed, the very next track, “5th Floor Annex,” is one of the loudest and most dynamic since it showcases Nazziola and Dave Anthony on the snare and bass drums. This is followed by an electric guitar duet between Jack Morer and Ian Smit, “Going Home,” which surprisingly turns out to be a very nice ballad track and not a screaming heavy-metal rockfest.

Get the Point is just a fun piece, played in a funky R&B style with John Hollenbeck on drums while Nazziola provides a sort of sub-level wordless vocal and finger snaps. Following this is a piece played by The Fillmore Contemporary Percussion Ensemble, Interstellar, which is one of the longest tracks on the album at 7:35. Interestingly, I couldn’t find this group online under that specific name (though there is a Contemporary Percussion Ensemble out of Arizona State University), so I can’t tell you any of their names or who’s playing which instrument, but they’re very good. At around the 6:30 mark, they rise to a tremendous crescendo, following which they indulge in what sounds like some very complex interwoven passages, possibly improvised.

Just Passing Through appears to be a live track, with rock beat, featuring bass and drums with a screaming audience at the beginning. As you wend your way through this album, you’ll discover a number of strange and wonderful things, among them Nazziola’s fascinating piano solo on Velvet Carnival and the combination of Middle Eastern and bluegrass fiddling on the Golem Overture. The promo material for this disc tells us that he wrote the score for The Golem, but I don’t know which one it was; the 2018 Israeli film of that name featured a score by Tal Yardeni. But this is an interesting, multi-movement piece that holds your attention from first to last.

This is a fascinating album that is well worth the $8 he is asking for it as a digital download.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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