Mark Papagno Trio
The debut album from Baltimore’s Mark Papagno Trio is a fine fusion recording that has strong shades of Allan Holdsworth’s work, mixed with straight-ahead jazz sensibilities. Joining guitarist Papagno are Joshua Davis (Tim Miller) on double bass, and Todd Harrison (Jazz Ambassadors) on drums. All of Trio‘s tracks were written by Papagno, and are largely driven by his jazzy chordal melodies and lyrical improvised lines. The music is very advanced from a harmonic standpoint, but it’s delivered with a raw, live approach that allows the songs to breath.
With his smooth overdriven lead tone, fast legato lines, and head scratch-inducing chords, Papagno will certainly draw comparisons to Holdsworth. However, there’s an airy, Tim Miller-like quality in his playing and writing as well. And while Papagno’s solos do have that inquisitive, searching quality that many legato-style players possess, he rarely sounds like he’s noodling. No matter how crazy his lines may be, he always manages to land on his feet, thanks in large part to his strong vibrato and phrasing.
One of the ‘X’ factors that gives Papagno’s trio it’s own sound is Davis’ double bass work. It’s a refreshing change to hear acoustic bass utilized in a genre so dominated by the electric variety. Davis adds a welcome, straight-ahead touch to this music, not only with his sound, but with his chops as well.
Trio features 14 tracks in all, with several of the tunes clocking in at under two minutes in length. These short pieces have an interlude-like quality which really ties the album together when listening to the disc from beginning to end. The record opens with a bang with the appropriately titled Open – a minute-long barrage of wild guitar runs played over Harrison’s frenetic drumming. The second track Alchemy follows a more standard format, and provides a good example of Papagno’s improvisational skills. His solo is loaded with great fast runs, and chromatic patterns. Textures and Guiding Lines are two more great showcases for Papagno’s playing. Davis’ contributions really come to bear on The Constant where he takes a great extended solo over some fine drum work by Harrison. The album’s strongest piece, however, may be Halo. While is does feature rich, clean-tone chords which is a common trait throughout the disc, this song also builds in intensity like no other track. By the time Papagno reaches his solo spot, he’s laying into the chords with an overdriven tone, and the whole band is right there with him.
There are several solo guitar pieces on the album as well, such Grey which features some beautiful arpeggiated chords, and Echoes where Papagno uses volume swells to add a haunting, atmospheric mood. With Light And Dark, Papagno take a different approach and kicks in the gain for some single-note lines in the middle of the piece.
Trio is a strong debut from Papagno, and is a fine showcase for his highly developed playing and improv skills. He also proves himself to be a great writer in the jazz fusion realm, and he clearly has the right bandmates to pull off his songs in a compelling way. I definitely want to hear more from Papagno and his trio in the future.
Mark Papagno Trio
Mark Papagno – Guitar
Joshua Davis – Bass
Todd Harrison – Drums
6. Light And Dark
7. The Constant
8. Guiding Lines
9. Arrow In The Blue
14. Across Night Skies