Tom Rizzo's Imaginary Numbers
, though putatively a showcase for the guitarist, features on every track a group of matured Jazz professionals performing witty arrangements that concentrate instead on their intuitive cohesiveness and effortless abilities to express the emotions evoked by the tunes. One wouldn't expect the emphasis upon ensemble playing at the beginning of the album, when Rizzo alone states succinctly and lyrically a brief rubato abbreviation of the melody before bassist Warrington comes in with bass accompaniment during the first chorus. And then? Gradually the instrumentalists join Rizzo after trumpeter Summers' subtle introductory accent of a quickly rising pitch?first tenor saxophonist Sheppard in unison with Rizzo and then layers of harmony from other members of the septet. So natural is the group's playing that the unexpected staggered meter in the sixth measure comes across seamlessly. The combination of effective arrangements and excellent ensemble work continues throughout the album to the extent that it becomes easy to forget that Imaginary Numbers
is, after all, a guitarist's project. Sonny Rollins' "Oleo" romps with swinging precision, even as Nick Lane's arrangement allows for propulsive anticipation of the beat in the fourth measures. The addition of tuba player Kugler provides depth to the harmonic palette as well. In contrast, J.J. Johnson's "Lament," familiar though it may be to Jazz listeners, features a gorgeous background for the soloists as French horn player John Dickson expands the textures even more when Sheppard and Summers offer their own poignant solos. Obviously, Rizzo is a team player, and his interests lie in the broader sound of his group as arranged by Lane and Kugler, who seem to absorb as inspiration Miles Davis' Birth of the Cool nonet. To fully appreciate Rizzo's rich tone and assured clarity of articulation, one would have to listen to Nat Adderley's "One for Daddy-O," on which Rizzo takes the lead though the entire group emerges with groove and beauty. Rizzo's swinging tribute to John Scofield, "Sco-Mi," is particularly satisfying as it references Scofield's Grace under Pressure album that included a three-piece horn section of Randy Brecker, Jim Pugh, and John Clark. We have the opportunity to hear a fine extended Rizzo solo on Stanley Turrentine's samba-influenced "Shirley," even to the end when Rizzo trades fours with Sheppard. Tom Rizzo's Imaginary Numbers
is a professionally produced and performed album, full of noteworthy solos, as well as warm and arresting arrangements. It's performed by musicians of confident proficiency whose work with each other has obviously become second nature.