New York Jazz Bassist Massimo Biolcati Makes Second Solo Album with Stellar Quartet ‘Incontre’ (ALBUM REVIEW))

It’s been ten years since New York bassist, composer, producer, and bandleader Massimo Biolcati released his first solo album Persona but now he’s back with Incontre, featuring nine compositions, four of which are originals. Biolcati stays busy, making it difficult to find time for his own work. He is a founding member of Gifema, the collective trio comprised of Hungarian drummer Ferenc Nemeth and West African guitarist and vocalist Lionel Loueke that mixes African rhythms with modern jazz rhythms. A new album from this band is due this Spring, produced by Biolcati.  He’s also the producer behind one we reviewed on these pages, The Horne Electric Band, issued last Fall on Ropeadope on which he also played bass. While that is a fusion-funk effort, Incontre is more wide-ranging, featuring music he’s been composing for the past ten years and selections from composers Mingus, Monk, and Dave Holland.

This stellar quarter features one of the most acclaimed emerging saxophonists Dayna Stephens who plays rnor, soprano, and baritone and was a fellow student of Biolcati at The Berklee School of music. Inventive keyboardist Sam Yahel who plays both piano and organ, and rising drummer Jongkuk Kim, known as J.K., round out the rhythm section with Biolcati on upright bass.

The opening original “Hello, I Lied” stems from a bass line he wrote a couple of years ago. He’s played it before with with J.K. and Yahel and knew they would have fun with it, bringing in Stephens on tenor. “Boo Boo’s Birthday” was composed by Monk for Art Blakey and like many of Monk’s tunes, has some interesting rhythmic turns, once again a vehicle for Stephens on tenor. Biolcati does a slow arrangement of the classic Charlie Chaplin song “Smile,” with Yahel on organ and Stephens on splendidly gorgeous soprano. Biolcati changed form its original major to a minor key to bring out the melancholy nature of the song, belying its title. Biolcati points to his growing up in the ‘80s roots by arranging the pop song “Everybody Wants to Rule The World” from Tears for Fears. This is an opportunity for J.K. to shine with creative rhythm patterns against the well-recognized melody expressed by Stephens’ on both   tenor and soprano as well as Yahel’s piano.

The well-known Mingus tune “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love” if a vehicle for Yahel’s organ playing and Stephens’ baritone sax. The title track is a contemplative piece written twenty years ago but never recorded, having been inspired by Kenny Wheeler’s writing with Yahel back on piano and Stephens returning to his robust tenor. Biolcati nods to the great bassist Dave Holland on Holland’s funky “How Never,” once again giving J.K. a chance to shine along with his own bass lines. “Fellini” is an original carrying a rather mysterious romantic vibe, envisioned from watching TV while growing up in Italy. Again it’s Stephens on tenor and Yahel on piano negotiating the melody. The closer, another original “Birthday Song. Almost” is as much about regret as a celebration as Biolcati apparently missed his wife’s birthday by a few days. This, like the other tunes, reveals tremendous chemistry and interaction between the four players who are clearly intently listening to one another. 

Inccontre offers beautiful, imaginative music. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait ten years for another solo effort from Biolcati.


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