Saxophonist Gian Tornatore's maiden voyage in 2003, Sink or Swim, revealed a young but mature player with a clear gift for composition and a strong melodic sense. Blackout, his sophomore release on Fresh Sound New Talent, documents the next step of his evolution with some ambitious new tunes and players. The NYC-based NorCal native has a considerable resume, having studied with well-known jazz educators George Garzone, Hal Crook and Billy Pierce and earned degrees from Berklee, NYU and Columbia. And while his music is intelligent and deceptively complex, it's more melodic than mathematical. He admits an affection for Pat Metheny's songwriting but arrives at a very different vibe when his ideas are realized. This quintet works admirably well with these fine-tuned compositions.
The opening track "Phase 3" shows their aptitude for atmosphere -- creamy guitar and Fender Rhodes textures, pure saxophone tone, wide dynamic range. Tornatore's tenor solo cleverly connects motivic ideas and builds to some focused and cleanly executed "outside" playing. Nate Radley's guitar work here is abstract but sensible, and his milky tone is the main attraction as his plucked chords ring out. Keyboardist Jon Anderson is the hold-over member from Tornatore's last album. His lyrical ideas unfold over a walking-tempo section of "The Swan," also a feature for Tornatore's liquid, voice-like soprano work.
Drummer Jordan Perlson's contributions to the date are actually just as significant as the leader's. He bolsters the group with leisurely grooves or peppers the textures with polyrhythms, particularly during his relentless feature on "Blackout." This thirteen-minute-long title track actually takes a bit to get going but later builds to a cathartic percussive flurry. In contrast, "Wingman March" waltzes coolly with subdued solos from Anderson and bassist Thomson Kneeland before leading to a gorgeous outro with Tornatore's pure tenor and Radley's cloudy guitar lines sailing over a luminous sea of Rhodes.
As with all of Tornatore's compositions, each tune here has its own arc, an audible path that's so natural it almost seems inevitable. This isn't the kind of album that turns heads right out of the gate, though; it takes its time in revealing its charms. In a deeper sense than its predecessor, Blackout's sound is shadowy, comfortable, calm, even hushed. This album holds a secret.
Blackout (Fresh Sound New Talent)
Gian Tornatore (tenor sax, soprano sax)
Nate Radley (guitar)
Jon Anderson (Fender Rhodes)
Thompson Kneeland (bass)
Jordan Perlson (drums)
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