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Vinny Golia - Sfumato

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Artist: Vinny Golia

Album: Sfumato

Label: Clean Feed

Review date: Mar. 24, 2006

Los Angeles based reeds wizard Vinny Golia writes some of the densest, most challenging music going. Inspired by the dense systems of Anthony Braxton and shaped by his contact with undersung West Coast heroes like John Carter and Bobby Bradford (the great trumpeter who shares the front line with Golia on this date, a quartet rounded out by bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Alex Cline), Golia has developed a compositional style that attempts to balance a love of complexity with enough flexibility and openness to facilitate sizzling improv.

The title of this disc alludes to an old Da Vinci painting for creating depth and volume in paintings. Though Golia was once a visual artist, this knowledge isn’t absolutely necessary to dig what’s happening here. The aforementioned balance emerges luminously throughout this session. Given Bradford’s presence, the most obvious reference here is Carter’s small group recordings (specifically those from the late 1960s, which channeled Ornette fairly heavily); the trumpeter’s dark, patient phrasing melds perfectly with Golia’s darting, avian presence. What’s more, attention to tone is a constant here, as the grainy copper of Bradford’s horn finds a balance with the silvery tartness of Golia’s voice. On the one hand, this attentiveness is surprising given the density of the music. Yet there are always moments in Golia’s music where tranquil pools suddenly form amidst complexity, where tones and voices resolve into each other unexpectedly.

The quartet engages in several brief explorations of timbre in a series of miniatures grouped under the heading “That Was for Albert”: in “Phase 3” Golia wails on ocarina while “Phase 5” features a low, spectral duet between Filiano and Cline. These work perfectly as sorbets between richer courses like the bustling “All Together Now.” On these denser, lengthier performances, the quartet sometimes lumbers along with a charmingly elephantine swing, but elsewhere (as, for example, on the brilliantly funky “Transition of Power”) is goosed into a horn-honking frenzy.

But as fine as this stuff is, what distinguishes Golia’s music from other similar instrumentations are stately dirges like “CBQ241” (whose gravitas depends on the superb interaction between Filiano and Cline) and knotty workouts like “Monday at Eight, Just Black and White” (whose multiple lines and overlaid pulse tracks recall Mr. Braxton’s influence). This is a typically fine Golia date, whose power is immediately accessible but whose nuance rewards careful attention. It’s also as good a place as any to begin your investigations of this unfairly marginal musician.

By Jason Bivins

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