Just Play, produced and performed by drummer Craig Pilo with an accompaniment that includes keyboardists Michael Forman and Ed Czach, bongo player Bryan Brock, and a dossier of bassists from smooth jazz like Bart Samolis, Keith Hubacher, and Jim King to contemporary jazz players like Tom Kennedy, David Enos, and Jonathan Pintoff. Craig Pilo played a heavy role in the songs arrangements which shows examples of smooth jazz, contemporary jazz, and avant-garde treatments. Even though Pilo’s insignia is embossed on every track, the instrumentals do not project music which the listener can identify with Craig Pilo.
His role in the rhythm section is a big part of establishing the grooves for the listener, but his drumming often takes a back seat to the other instrument parts like the keyboards on "Autumn Leaves" and the saxophone on "Shades Of Blue," Or, Pilo does an intense drum series like on "Impressions," which leaves the surrounding instrument parts in the dust and feeling like they are out of the drums league. The songs are all very aurally pleasing including the electronica stylizing of "Awkwardly Mobile" and the avant-garde angles of the movements on "Teen Town." The harmonies form nice melodic lines that ascend and shape sprightly doodling action in the keys and horns which create a happy mood on "Red Clay." The tuneful composites are layered in cycles like on "All Blues" which produce recurring arcades which are strung together nicely but most of the music lacks a strong rhythm section to grip the melody. Instead, Pilo relies on the ballooning notes of the saxophone and the dazzling keyboard phrases to carry the tunes.
The contemporary jazz contours on "Softly As In A Morning Sunrise" are fused with a skillful finesse, and the final track "Miles Mode" returns to a smooth jazz complexion first heard from the opening tracks "Early Cynical Mystery" and "Autumn Leaves." But what is missing most in these songs is chemistry. The music is loaded with pleasantries but the instrument parts lack a strong attachment to each other, or at least their bond is not translated to the listener. It seems as if Pilo is coming in as a sessions player on his own solo album, which might have been hard for him to shake off this way of seeing himself during the recordings for Just Play.
Craig Pilo has been a sessions musician throughout his life as a drummer, playing for a number of jazz and pop artists including Player, Maynard Ferguson, Deniece Williams, Pat Boone, Vonda Sheppard, and currently he is playing in Frankie Valli’s band and with Edgar Winter. He has produced a string of solo albums and Just Play is a testament to his philosophy that "worrying about what’s appropriate, acceptable, traditional, or correct can prevent us from doing anything at all. The simple fear of being criticized for doing our own thing can damn us to our practice rooms without ever seeing the light of day. At some point I honestly feel it’s important to let the critics be critics and for better or worse, Just Play," he shares in the liner notes.
It’s a healthy attitude to have and one which everyone can learn from and use in their own lives, and certainly one which Pilo should to continue to follow.