Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Biolcati's Persona

By Massimo Biolcati

Feel the Bergman love. Massimo Biolcati’s debut CD as a leader, Persona (on-sale today), takes its inspiration from the Ingmar Bergman film of the same title. There might be some irony in taking a film about two contrasting personalities as the jumping off point for his first opportunity to establish a distinct impression as a leader. However, Biolcati’s program of opposing themes has some bright, energetic moments.

The first five tracks (which would have been side 1 back in the day) form the so-called “Motion” program or persona. The first two tracks are direct reflections on the Bergman film. “The Beginning,” logically enough the lead-off track, starts the proceedings at a crisp tempo. “Deconstruction” is less of a flag-waver, conveying a sense of nervous energy through the guitar of Lionel Loueke. Up to this point, Biolcati is probably best known for his work with the guitarist, including Loueke’s acclaimed Virgin Forest from last year.

“Wise Way” is an appealing feature for the leader’s bass. Inspired by drummer Jeff Ballard’s work with Chick Corea, it brings to mind some of the pianist’s pleasing past melodies. The energy portion of the disk concludes with “TT (in Memoriam Take Toriyama),” which became a tribute to the late drummer, but according to Biolcati: “It’s not a requiem, as I wrote it when he was alive and full of energy, which is the way I want to remember him.”

Fittingly, the tribute to Toriyama leads into the “Stillness” program. The introspective portion of Persona starts with a vocal performance by Lizz Wright, interpreting a poem by Norwegian poet Mona Vetrhus (Biolcati is actually Italian-Swedish). The lyrics are appropriately Nordic, beginning:

“When you disappear like a barren winter time, the night under the white
Searching for your tomb and talking to the moon, you say you’ll be home soon.”

“Stillness” is an apt description for “Hopeless Dream To Be,” which has a strong ECM flavor. The Northern European vibe eventually reaches its apex with the concluding composition, “Scandinavia.” Pianst Peter Rende switches to accordion, giving the track a ghostly Old World quality.

Biolcati has penned some intriguing melodies and presented them in a thoughtful manner. Persona sounds like a real concept and not just a collection tunes, making it a strong debut for the bassist as a leader.