Nothing hones skills finer, however, than playing with exemplary artists and Pino has played, and recorded, with some of the best. This nonet is packed with extraordinary young musicians. Glenn Zaleski on piano is in wide demand and you don’t get much better than Colin Stranahan on drums. Nick Finzer is a phenomenal trombonist. Even hearing some of these young guys for the first time leaves the listener with the thought, “I’m keeping my eye on this guy.”
Here is the line-up: Lucas Pino-tenor sax, Glenn Zaleski-piano, Alex LoRe-alto sax, Andrew Gatauskas-baritone sax, Mat Jodrell-trumpet, Nick Finzer-trombone, Rafal Sarnecki-guitar, Desmond White-bass, and Colin Stranahan-drums. All playing without a net.
The album “No Net Nonet” (Origin Records 82688) is kicked off by one of those tunes composed while Pino was in high school. “The Fox” is about his school days chum with the last name of Fox. It was this piece that so intrigued the album’s executive producer, Miguel Mengual.
According to Pino’s liner notes, the song is about those great relationships that allow argument without endangering the friendship. The piece breaks off speedily, calling to mind the very image of a fox. The solos from Pino, Finzer, Zaleski and Stranahan are brilliant. A fine piece to whet the appetite of what comes after.
“On the Road” is a Glenn Zaleski composition based on the Jack Kerouac novel of the same title. Mat Jodrell gets a stand-out solo on trumpet. This is a track that exemplifies the great writing skills of Zaleski.
“Orange” showcases Desmond White on bass. His bass weaves in and out of the tune, in and around Andrew Gatauskas’ baritone sax and Pino’s own tenor. Zaleski’s throbbing piano chords give the idea of a the churning of volcanic activity which is the subject matter of the song. Zaleski and Stranahan trade coolly as the horns create the vivid image of eruption.
Pino had visited Poland with Sarnecki’s band and “Strange Breakfast” is the resulting composition from the experience. As he states in his liner notes, the title is based on his breakfasts in Poland where they “may have all the same typical breakfast ingredients, but did not look anything like what I recognized.”
Sarnecki’s guitar is featured alongside Pino’s tenor sax. The complexities and oddities of the music highlight the differences in cultural experiences. A fun bit of swing with great interaction between Sarnecki and Pino.
“Intro to Bankenstein” starts off with a “Twilight Zone” type of guitar arpeggio and finished with a rapid Stranahan solo which leads straight into “Bankenstein.”
Based on the “too big to fail” fallacy of the 2008 financial catastrophe, the piece begins mundanely enough only to be set on its ear with quirky meters and other “rebellious” elements. Sweet solos from Finzer (trombone), Jodrell (trumpet) and Pino (tenor sax). A monstrously odd piece track that is staggering and imaginative and—sadly but accurately—too much like 2008’s meltdown.
“Sunday Play” is dedicated to Pino’s mentor, Charles Lewis. Every Sunday, Pino and Lewis would get together for playing duos. White’s sagacious bass is the voice of Lewis who asked Pino at their first Sunday session, “You’re not afraid of dissonance, are you?”
The tenor sax is, of course, featured and Zaleski’s support is touching and sweet. It is the most lyrical piece on the album.
“Where You Need to Be” is another early Pino composition. The interaction of the saxes and the sustains of the trumpet is a long, cool section. Pino calls it a “Jazz samba” and there is no reason to disagree. An immensely enjoyable track, it is shadowed with a hint of melancholy.
“Homage A’ Mitch” is Glenn Zaleski’s take on a great Kurt Rosenwinkel tribute piece to Mitch Borden, the founder of Small’s Jazz Club where Pino has enjoyed a monthly residency since 2013.
Zaleski wrote a shout chorus for the piece by taking the original trades and orchestrated them for the large ensemble. The resulting arrangement is incredibly well-constructed and is a highlight to the whole album. Sarnecki, Pino and Zaleski provide the solos.
White and Stranahan are in cool and sturdy support. Stranahan’s solo is interrupted by the horns but returns with piano, guitar and bass in yet another highlight moment.
Alto saxman Alex LoRe wrote “A Morning Walk” about living in Boston.
“I always felt this overwhelming sense of calmness and beauty,” he says of his long walks there.
The pace is quick and even Jodrell’s flugelhorn is brisk and bright. The lightness is enhanced by the disappearance of the bass during the horns’ playing. LoRe textures the tune perfectly. Jodrell finishes with trumpet and Stranahan’s drumming is a terrific accent.
“The Old Man from the Land of Aran” is a Rafal Sarnecki composition and serves as the conclusion of the album. It was a Polish comic book that inspired the piece.
Amazing instrumentation, meters and other textures create a near-epic work of adventure and imagination. Stranahan knocks down cool rhythms with broken beats and phrasing. Zaleski is fierce and the horns light it up with Sarnecki equally on fire. Pino blisters the sax solo.
What was once limited to monthly audiences at Small’s Jazz Club in NYC is now available to all of us. “No Net Nonet” is an exciting collection of varied composers and ensemble musicians who coalesce into a grand unification.
The performers are spot-on and the recording itself is a well-done representation of what has thrilled audiences and critics. Pino has given us something special.
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