With Joshua Davis and Marco Minnemann at his side, Baltimore based guitarist Mark Papagno releases his second trio album “X”. Thirty years in music has enabled Papagno to craft an album built upon several elements of jazz. Davis’ upright bass, mixed with Papagno’s legato runs, and Minnemann’s powerful intricate kit work combine familiar musical ingredients into a new, fresh sound. The combination creates a circumstance where the title fusion is concurrently fitting and out of place.
While avoiding a debate on the true definition, “X” incorporates familiar tones, but pushes them in a unique direction within Papagno’s compositions. He also avoids several cliques often attributed to the genre. His compositions do not linger or ramble on with excessive noodling. In fact “X” averages three minutes per a track. Papagno is precise and direct with his sonic message. A guitarist with a headless guitar, utilizing legato runs and wide chord voicings often send red flags towards imitation but at no point did Papagno come off as such. His influences are apparent but never mimicked, exhibiting full control and mindfulness of his own voice.
With everything “X” is not, here is what the album is: thirteen-tracks of genuine collaboration between three musicians. The raw album is diverse enough in vibe and style to never lose the listeners attention and should be listened to from start to finish. With no fluff and all business arrangements “X” is broken up with interludes, a touch of synth pads for color, driving interplay, and even a solo guitar piece, “Incanation” for a change of pace. “Incanation” uses chorus and flange for a change in atmosphere. These sudden shifts in style and feel prompt the album is more about musicality and less about individual technicality.
Papagno held no boundaries over his fellow musicians, instructing Minnemann to play whatever he felt with no focus on a specific style. This freedom fostered passionate powerful playing one would expect from Minnemann. His playing gels well with his counter parts. “Elements” exhibits incredible fills and feels like Minnemann lets loose the entire recording, but never distracts from the rest of the piece or Davis and Papagno’s involvement.
Davis contributes two solo pieces, “Tailsman” and “Tailman 2”, which act as interludes pulling the album together. He also closes the album with “Ending” a short, bowed piece adding a warm conclusion. Davis’ upright bass was the perfect tone for “X”, using the strong-bodied tone as a tonal basis as well as a sonic foundation in place of synths.
“X” is a refined form of fusion. It is impressive and refreshing to hear three musicians come to together and create an album free of fluff, while using these constraints of time to display their superior musicianship. “X” is a unique take on familiar ingredients; an easy listen but never dull. Clocking in at close to forty minutes “X” certainly packs a strong punch, and builds strong respect and admiration for Papagno, Minnemann, and Davis individually and as a trio.