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First Day by Massimo Sammi

The Italian-born, Boston-based guitarist Massimo Sammi is currently a composition student at the New England Conservatory, where he's won the praise of giants such as Ran Blake and Charlie Banacos . Stylistically, Sammi's new CD, First Day, is all over the place - there's some intelligently subdued post-bop, a few mellow duets with vocalist Dominique Eade, and some outward bound avant-jazz that also comes across as intelligent and somewhat subdued. Sammi and his supremely talented cohorts pull it all off quite impressively and convincingly.

The title track is a mellow, harmonically diffuse, moderate tempo piece with an attractive melody - perfect for Garzone's post-Coltrane tenor musings and Sammi's Abercrombie-esque guitar. 'Encryption' is a somewhat more muscular piece that showcases Isreal's splashy, athletic drumming and Lockwood's grooving bass. Their fertile rhythmic base propels Garzone (now on soprano), to spectacular improvisational heights. The two 'Prisoner's Dilemma' pieces are musical puzzles based on the tension between co-operation and self-interest that forms the basis of what we now know as game theory, first investigated by Nobel Prize winning mathematician John Nash (the pieces' dedicatee), and later expanded upon by researchers at the Rand Corporation in the mid-1950s. The first attempt, 'Be Quiet,' features Sammi on acoustic guitar, Isreal's softly malleted toms and cymbals, and Garzone on soprano. The piece starts out sparse and skeletal, slowly coalescing towards more turbulent regions. Each member of the quartet deftly stays out of the others' way, knitting together diverse phrases and melodic fragments to create a spellbinding whole. 'Rat Out' represents the other side of the coin, with Garzone's brash, almost comical-sounding simultaneous dual saxophones leading the way. Sammi picks up the electric guitar here, and indulges in a heated three-way exchange with Isreal and the completely unhinged Lockwood, who turns in an amazing performance.

After the two improvisational pieces, 'Hallways,' the final quartet track, returns to the mellow ECM-inspired impressionism of the title track. 'Ice Cream and Tears Please' and 'Disappeared Friends' are duets between Sammi (on acoustic guitar) and Eade's wordless vocals. Both are quite lovely, and I enjoyed the stark and almost folksy directness of the latter piece quite a bit. Eade's voice is clear, accurate and carries the same sort of emotional weight and focus that Garzone's horns do on the quartet pieces.

"First Day" accomplishes its putative goal of introducing Massimo Sammi to the jazz-listening public outside of Boston, and shows that he is a force to be reckoned with - both as a player and as a composer of merit. For me, the improvisational pieces and the vocal duets provide the most musical heat, while the two composed quartet pieces are quietly capable and confident, but are of lesser interest. All in all, First Day is an impressive debut that leaves me wanting to hear more from this excellent young guitarist.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Massimo Sammi
  • CD Title: First Day
  • Genre: Various Jazz Styles
  • Year Released: 2009
  • Record Label: Massimo Sammi Music
  • Rating: Three Stars
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