Point of Departure review by Troy Collins

Ricardo Gallo’s Tierra De Nadie – The Great Fine Line (CF 209)
Colombian pianist Ricardo Gallo, who has been slowly garnering attention stateside as an ingenious sideman to such luminaries as trombonist Ray Anderson and trumpeter Peter Evans, currently serves as assistant to the Jazz Department of New York’s Stony Brook University under the leadership of Anderson. No stranger to recording as a leader, Gallo’s percussion-heavy Bogota-based quartet recently released their third album, Resistencias (La Distritofonica) to widespread critical acclaim. The Great Fine Line is the debut of Tierra De Nadie, an international ensemble inspired by a quote from the Argentine novelist Julio Cortazar, who stated “I think in music, for a long time, that ‘fine line’ that defines genres, or national and/or racial identities keeps becoming wider and blurrier, expanding a sort of “no man’s land” that is happy for us, or still dangerous for some.”

Joined by Anderson, saxophonist Dan Blake, bassist Mark Helias, drummer Pheeroan akLaff and percussionist Satoshi Takeishi, Gallo follows Cortazar’s edict, seamlessly blending Latin American folk traditions and modernist jazz innovations into a sophisticated hybrid that looks to both the past and future for inspiration. At its most vivacious, Gallo’s contrapuntal writing draws heavily from the earliest elements of jazz history, augmenting elaborate neo-classical arrangements with a collective energy that recalls the ebullience of Dixieland and the frenzy of the New Thing. Similar in scope to such veterans as Phillip Johnston and Henry Threadgill, Gallo’s embrace of the tradition knows no bounds, illustrated by the stylistic distance covered between the surreal New Orleans-inspired Latin number “Hermetismo” and the incandescent ballad “The Intervention.”

With a pellucid touch and broad sense of dynamics, Gallo unleashes an array of prismatic cadences, from pearlescent cascades to pneumatic clusters, modulating from foreground to background in magnanimous fashion. The adroit rhythm section of Helias and Aklaff underpins Gallo’s labyrinthine contours with syncopated cross rhythms, augmented with interlocking multi-hued accents courtesy of Takeishi’s exotic wood and metal percussion – when Takeishi is not throttling the skins himself in akLaff’s place, as he does for half the record. On the front line, Dan Blake’s sinuous soprano evokes the vocalized tone of his mentor Steve Lacy, making a complementary foil to Ray Anderson’s blustery tailgating. Their sprightly interplay and unfettered expressionism lends Gallo’s mercurial themes a sense of insouciant elation, especially on “Stomp At No Man’s Land” and the spirited closer, “La Piña Blanca,” which are surprisingly reminiscent of Johnston and Joel Forrester’s whimsical writing for the Microscopic Septet.

Evoking the concept at the heart of the album’s title, Gallo and company embrace myriad genres and styles in pursuit of a joyful noise rarely heard in contemporary jazz. Blake and Anderson’s animated call-and-response, the rhythm section’s roiling undercurrent and Gallo’s harmonious inventions gracefully integrate boisterous Dixieland licks, Latin American polyrhythms and regal formalism into a beguiling cross-cultural fusion that defies simple categorization.

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