By Hrayr Attarian
Nick Mazzarella Trio Counterbalance
Nick Mazzarella – Alto saxophone
Anton Hatwich – Bass
Frank Rosaly – Drums
On the stimulating Counterbalance, alto saxophonist Nick Mazzarella reunites his decade-old trio for a program that includes six multilayered originals. Recorded live at Co-Prosperity Sphere in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood, the album deftly captures the urgent vibrancy of the performance. The pieces, even though unique, are thematically cohesive—and together make a dramatic whole that engrosses from the first note to the last with no slack in momentum.
Over rumbling bass and drums, Mazzarella starts off “Phonetic” with crisp, short phrases that transform into a yearning and chantlike melody. The simmering energy bursts into three overlapping stream-of-consciousness monologues that, despite their divergence, are quite complementary. Bassist Anton Hatwich contributes lithe and eloquent lines while drummer Frank Rosaly adds intricate polyrhythms to the group sound. Mazzarella’s vibrato-filled saxophone notes flitter over both sidemen before a moment of silence ushers in a return to the head.
The captivating synergy among the musicians, honed over several years of playing together, is on full display here. For instance, on the title track Hatwich’s bowed bass hauntingly echoes Mazzarella’s saxophone, while Rosaly punctuates the duet with his angular drumbeats. Their dialogue is both lyrical and delightfully dissonant, as Hatwich and Mazzarella alternate between sparring and mirroring one another. A riotous three-way conversation precedes the tune’s stately and contemplative conclusion.
The ensemble strikes a sublime balance between the emotive and the cerebral. The cinematic “Headway,” for example, features Rosaly’s stirring and explosive solo that is nevertheless intricately built. Mazzarella lets loose intelligent, crystalline phrases that are warm and soulful, while Hatwich coaxes out of his strings a breathtakingly agile and elegant extemporization that moves and intrigues.
As Counterbalance demonstrates, what sets Mazzarella, Hatwich, and Rosaly apart from other trios is more than their seamless camaraderie. It is that they make spontaneous music that is abstract yet not abstruse, fiery and emotive without being jarring, free flowing yet rooted in tradition.