Imagine that the classic quintet albums recorded by the late Tony Williams now have the following instrumentation: tenor saxophone, trumpet, drums and Hammond B-3 organ. This scenario makes up almost half the performances on Back Home, organist Pat Bianchi’s second release. This recording is balanced out when Bianchi leads a second ensemble featuring the more traditional organ trio with guitar and drums.
Bianchi’s hard-bop quartet, tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, trumpeter Terell Stafford, and drummer Ralph Peterson Jr., do not appear until the third track, Chick Corea’s “Litha,” but they do continue the assertive approach already established by guitarist Gilad Hekselman and drummer Carmen Intorre on Coltrane’s “Fifth House” and Zawinul’s “Midnight Mood.”
Although “Litha” is driven by the horns, Bianchi shares time on the frontline. He pushes and prods in a way that recalls Williams when he would ignite Billy Pierce and Wallace Roney, and Peterson also takes his turns pushing the horns to the ozone. When Escoffery and Stafford state the melody and then solo, their challenge, which they do meet, is to maintain their energy and imagination, as the rhythmic beds laid by Bianchi and Peterson change constantly.
On the title track, a Bianchi original, Peterson pushes Escoffery and Stafford by adapting a shuffle-like feel from his ride cymbals. While more than half this song features the horns out front, with organ and drums in the back, this latter duet/duel that bridges the out chorus shows that Bianchi and Peterson can listen to and drive each other with equal intensity.
The quartet displays another approach on Ornette Coleman’s “Blues Connotation.” Here, Escoffery and Bianchi set up Peterson, whose solo leads to another two-man jam with Bianchi. On Wayne Shorter’s “Hammer Head,” the quartet is at its Blakeyesque best. This performance begins with marching orders issued via Peterson’s press rolls and gets carried to completion with very inspired solos from everyone else.
When Bianchi is joined by guitarist Hekselman and drummer Intorre, Back Home displays a more sensitive side. The best moments for this trio happen on “Portrait of Jenny.” Bianchi, the balladeer here, has his performance enhanced by Hekselman’s reflective chords – which bring to mind John McLaughlin’s musings on Miles’ “Shhh/Peaceful,” while Intorre’s tom-toms and distant cymbal splashes also assist without being intrusive. The trio here provides power without powerful volume, and the board-fade employed to close this song helps it end with a whisper.
Hekselman’s accompanist skills, which are just as impressive as his soloist skills, get more good exposure on “Just in Time.” Here, Bianchi and Hekselman take turns embellishing each other’s thoughts, while Intorre provides his own support.
Back Home proves that Bianchi, who has also played in ensembles led by mentor Joey DeFrancesco and Lou Donaldson, is ready to establish a voice and reputation totally his own.