Southern California saxophonist and composer Ian Tordella’s debut CD, Magnolia, places the young musician in quartet and quintet settings. Originally from the Washington, D.C. area, he has performed or sat in with musicians like bassist Butch Warren and Miles Davis drummer Ricky Wellman. Since moving to California in 2002 the saxophonist has worked as a leader and with other artists like bassist Rob Thorsen, altoist David Negrete, guitarist Joey Carano, and pianist Joshua White. He has performed at festivals in the U.S., Mexico, and Colombia.
On this CD Tordella works with bassist Jeff Denson and pianist Florian Weber. Both of these artists attended the Berklee College of Music and have worked in the Lee Konitz New Quartet. Their past association pays off in spades as they have an obvious fondness for each other’s work and work together in perfect tandem throughout. They have recorded on the Enja label. Drummer Brian McLaughlin graduated from the Berklee College of Music and has worked with artists such as Wynton Marsalis, Joe Lovano and Hal Crook. Currently living in Los Angeles, McLaughlin works frequently with various bands as well as in the television and motion picture studios. San Diego native and guitarist Jeff Miles, also a Berklee graduate, has won numerous awards and is currently gaining a lot of press as a hot young guitarist to watch.
Of the seven tracks on the disc, six are by Tordella. As a composer he weaves strands of rhythm between the melodic lines of his compositions. If not for his exceptionally talented backing band, all of whom deserve wider recognition, the arrangements would fall apart; they are that complex. "Liam’s Song," for example, ends with a simple riff melody that is propelled by the rhythm section to an amazingly hip ending. The opening, done in slow time, allows for tasteful band interaction. Denson and McLaughlin are superb in staying out of the way, allowing the melody to work its magic. Then behind Tordella’s solo they are careful to only make statements during the saxophonist’s breaths. This leaves Weber’s skillful use of upper chordal structures in the piano to provide the harmonic underpinning. The result is the epitome of the highest expression of musical discrimination.
All of the soloists are incredibly skilled, with Miles’ work bearing special mention. He knows how to build solos in a way that many who are twice his age and currently working in jazz could learn from. Weber’s solos, complete with Keith Jarrett like vocalizations, show a clear understanding of motivic development and his technique, as on "The Way Through," is astounding. Tordella has a nice sense of line, runs changes with the best of them, witness "Liam’s Song," and plays with a full and clear dark-toned energy.
While there is tons of great music making going on here, there is nothing that stands out and grabs you by the collar. That is, of course, okay. This disc is, after all, just Tordella’s debut. While the disc is worth checking out, it will be interesting to watch the careers of all involved.