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Vito Rezza and 5after4 - Rome in a Day (2011)

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You might read the artist name and album title and think this is a record of Italian music but, no, not exactly. 5AFTER4 is a rock-jazz outfit out of Toronto led by its drummer, Vito Rezza, and though Rezza was born in Italy, he's been in Canada for so long that a recent whirlwind trip to the country's historic capital was full of marvel to this transplanted North American musician. But like all serious musicians who are also composers, he turned his marvel into music, and that music is this here album called Rome In A Day.

5AFTER4 can, in a sense, be considered the Fourplay of Canada, with its membership a collection of super-sessionists. Rezza's credit lists included Joni Mitchell, John Lee Hooker, Big Mama Thornton and my main man Gino Vannelli. Bassist and producer Peter Cardinali has worked with Rick James, The Brecker Brothers, Ray Charles, Anne Murray, Oscar Peterson, Michael Bublé, Larry Carlton and Teena Marie. Reedman Johnny Johnson's worked with Diana Krall, Aretha Franklin, Roberta Flack, Dianne Reeves and Bill Mays. Keyboardist Matt Horner is also notable as a composer in addition to being an in-demand sideman; Long John Baldry's signature song “Midnight in New Orleans" was written by Horner.

This album, however, is not the slickly-produced kind of record that Fourplay makes; Rome was recorded in the studio essentially live, with no prior rehearsals and minimal overdubbing afterwards. It's made the way fusion records used to be made...or, at least, seemed to be made. The straight-ahead jazz esprit permeates this record, even if much of the time there's little “straight ahead" about the music itself. Music that's not candy, but still sweet in a natural way, like a perfectly ripened peach.

Rezza, to his great credit, is one of those rare drummers who composes with the melody in mind at least as much as the rhythm, and he knows how to fit the two together. “10,000 Days" boasts Steely Dan harmonic progressions, especially in the softer, second half of the song, and his ability to underpin a song with delicate fills and smooth shifts is the mark of a master drummer. “Balena" (Youtube below) is driven by tough drumming by Rezza, and Horner's “Top Hat" is the kind of deft merge of swing and fusion that the Yellowjackets perfected, down to Cardinali's Jimmy Haslip styled electric bass solo. Horner can also create buoyant songs with strong hooks, like “African Love Affair," and still make it complex and interesting. “Changing of the Seasons" has a more soulful and melancholy mood, accentuated by Johnson's alto sax and Horner's Fender Rhodes.

The centerpiece song would have to be the title cut, another urbane melody imagined by Rezza, and an groove nailed down tight by him and Cardinali. Running at nearly twelve minutes, it's about three or four minutes minutes too long, but it's hard to blame them for wanting to keep a good thing going. “Animal Crackers" is a fifteen minute total group improv that takes a while to find its footing, only to seemingly lose it again and find it again, as they band moves from one idea to another. Some of those ideas connect and some of them don't.

The few faults, though, are the natural side effects of Cardinali's approach of making the sessions fresh, playing music the musicians barely know or are making up as they go along. Those kind of situations can lead down a few dead ends once in a while for even the world's best musicians, so it should be an expected occurrence on this record, too. But considering working under these circumstances, 5AFTER4 kept their performances sharp and concise a good deal of the time. In doing so, they made a “live" record that truly lives in the moment with the benefits from having the engineering advantage of the studio. Rome In A Day wasn't made quite that quickly (it was recorded in four days), but it still feels like a whirlwind tour of immediate, muscular but listenable contemporary jazz.

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