Thursday, August 17, 2023

Max Ionata - LIKE - Mingus Records

 © Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

As I have written previously:

“Max Ionata is a monster tenor player: technique to spare; a big, bossy, blustery tone; a sense of swing reminiscent of the great “big horn” players of the past including Chu Berry, Coleman Hawkins and Sonny Rollins.

But, in many ways, Max is so hard to classify, that once I stopped trying, I recognized him for who he is - a true original on the instrument with his own voice and his own style of improvisation. You’ve heard it all before and yet you haven’t. He is unique and he impresses with each and every song rendering and improvised solo.”

As is the case on all his recordings, with Max, the swing is the thing.

Max uses a number of sophisticated devices to keep his sets fresh for the listener including a variety of tempos, song structures and rhythmic devices.

Nobody “teaches” you this stuff. You’ve got to have “big ears,” listen closely and know how to apply what you are picking up on.”


I first heard Max on a series of albums released in 2014 by Albore Records including: Roberto Gatto Quintet’s tribute to his fellow drummer Shelly Manne on Remembering Shelly [Albore Records ALBCD 007]pianist Luca Mannutza’s The Sound of Six sextet on My Music [Albore Records ALBCD 018]; Max Ionata Organ 3+ Fabrizio Bosso Coffee Time [Albore Records ALBCD 011].

Since then, Max has ventured out on his own and has a number of recordings under his name in his growing discography. He prefers smaller settings - sax plus rhythm section, primarily - and he enjoys taking his horn on the road to club and concert venues throughout Italy, Europe and Japan.

Whatever the musical or geographical setting, Max continues to be a surprising treat to the ears. His tone may be reminiscent of Sonny Rollins and, at times, that of Joe Henderson’s, but his phrasing is like no other tenor player that I’ve ever heard before.  He takes so many chances and while he escapes from some of his improvisational adventures, he also crashes by placing himself in situations from which there is no extraction other than by taking a deep breath and going on to build the next sequence. What fun!

When I listen to Max I am reminded of Don Pate’s, son of the Jazz bassist, Johnny Pate, following observation in Paul F. Berliner’s brilliant Thinking in Jazz: The Infinite Art of Improvisation:

“What’s intense about a solo is where somebody does something and it makes you think: ‘What’s THAT he’s playing?’ or ‘WHERE is he coming from? Or ‘HOW did he ever do that.”

Of course, this description [what Pate calls “otherwhere”] is akin to The New Yorker’s long-standing Jazz critic, Whitney Balliett’s famous phrase – “The Sound of Surprise.”

Recently, the peripatetic Ionata has found himself in the company of bassist Jesper Bodilsen and drummer Martin Maretti Andersen in what he casually refers to as his “Danish Trio.”

They have a new CD coming out at the end of August on Mingus Records and as you can see from the tune and song selection in the above tray plate graphic, it is comprised of nine tracks with selections ranging from the Jazz Standards and the Great American Songbook to three originals - two by Max and one by Jesper.

The trio format without a piano gives Max, Jesper and Martin plenty of space and they use it well as each “voice” has the opportunity to be heard, expansively and expressively.

The music is thoughtfully presented from the unison melody played by Jesper and Max on Thad Jones’ Three in One to the soulful two-beat that frames the beginning of Hank Mobley’s Soul Station to the bouncy boogaloo beat that propels a funky version of Eddie Harris’ Cold Duck Time.

A slow Latin beat caresses Michel Legrand’s marvelous You Must Believe in Spring - talk about a composer with a gift for melody! - and the “Latin tinge” is also evident in the group’s introduction of George Gershwin’s Who Cares? [for fear of understatement, another first-rate melodist].

Martin demonstrates his mallet drumming skills on Astor Piazzola’s moody Oblivion as he and Jesper’s bass ostinatos create a quasi Tango beat over which Max’s glides and weaves a series of lyrical improvisations.

Like finds Max and Jesper playing a unison, low register version of this interesting, bebop inspired melody which, when it goes into time, has Jesper demonstrating a monstrous walking bass line while also beautifully framing the chords harmonically.  

Max’s But could just as easily have been named - Boogie Back Beat - and Martin certainly lays one down and provides a setting for wonderfully “looping and lopping” solos by both Jesper and then Max. This track is just one of many examples throughout the recording of Martin’s sensitive drumming which never overpowers and serves the music in the best example of an accompanist.

Everyone listens to one another on this gorgeously recorded album. The sound impeccably captures the work of the musicians and gives the listener the sensation that the music is being performed in their living room.

Like is a showcase for the quiet intensity that Max Ionata brings to his Jazz interpretations.

He is an artist with the integrity that respects the best that the Jazz tradition has to offer while at the same time shaping the future direction of the music with his artistry.

If you are a fan of the best in Jazz, then you are not gonna want to miss this one.


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