Massimo: The Visionary
It’s almost impossible not to reference one’s inspirations, but Massimo, while not avoiding his roots entirely, is clearly on the vanguard of modern fusion with The Visionary, the Italian-born drummer/keyboardist/composer’s third release. Self-taught, he’s a monstrous player with formidable chops, but more important is his writing, which echoes shades of Return to Forever and Weather Report amongst others, but possesses something unique in its combination of long-form, episodic compositions, powerful, rock-hard grooves and a collection of players who add no shortage of solo excitement to the proceedings.
While fusion is the word here, Massimo’s own playing makes it clear that he’s capable of extending beyond the genre’s broadest definition. On the Weather Report-ish opener, Deep Above, he plays busily over the Zawinul-esque synth melody, splashy cymbals giving him a distinctive edge and sound as he define his own swing aesthetic. It may be Barry Miles who takes the official solo here, half-way into the track and after its lengthily reiterated theme is over, but it’s Massimo who, even during the keyboardist’s impressive MiniMoog solo, owns the track. Bassist Tim Lokan takes no solos on The Visionary, and he might almost be an invisible force, were it not for the unshakable anchor he provides here and throughout the disc.
Massimo’s textural colors are, indeed, reminiscent of the late Joe Zawinul, but the aggression of the writing and playing is all his own. John Swana, a mainstream fixture on his own series of albums for the Dutch Criss Cross label, plays only the Electronic Valve Instrument (EVI) here, as he did on Massimo’s previous Mind Over Matter (Independent, 2006) and No Offense (Independent, 2007)–though he did also play trumpet on those earlier discs–and brings a 21st Century post-bop sensibility to his first solo on the high velocity, irregular-metered Conquest, and a more gritty, phrasally un-horn-like closing solo.
Traces of Return to Forever’s Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy (Polydor, 1973) imbue the nearly 15-minute The Visionary Suite, which echoes the relentless ascent and descent of Stanley Clarke’s After the Cosmic Rain, Lokan’s bass line referencing Clarke’s and Jason Shattil’s electric piano solo, while perhaps a little more Hancock than Corea, still looking to the latter’s denser, dirtier tone. Guitarists Shawn Q. and Steve Giordano both get a chance to solo here: Q’s tone dirty and effected, as visceral as Bill Connors; Giordano adopting a cleaner, bop-inflected tone even as the episodic piece leads to a high octane solo from Massimo and a closing EVI solo that, again, defies preconceptions about what a horn–even an electric one–can do.
Perhaps what gives Massimo’s writing its edge is that, for all its jazz leanings and lengthy solo space, it’s detailed and through-composed, as much progressive rock as it is fusion–a taste of where Return to Forever might have gone had it continued along the path of the unmistakably prog-infused Romantic Warrior (Columbia, 1976). His use of synths to create forward motion on the fiery and texture-rich The Tunnel–grabbing a bit of techno with it relentless, percussion and synth-driven pulse–is a sonic tour de force, more about soundscape and knotty themes despite improvisational room for Giordano and Massimo (on synth), both delivering intensifying tension-and-release filled solos.
With plenty of energy, high-paced soloing, compositional depth and Massimo’s defining drum sound, The Visionary is a potent cross-over disc that will appeal as much to instrumental progressive fans as it will fusion followers.
Personnel and Track Listing
Personnel: John Swana: EVI, solos (2, 4, 5, 7); Barry Miles: keyboards, MiniMoog solos (1, 2, 5), piano solo (9); Jason Shattil: electric piano, solos (7); Shawn Q.: guitar, solos (3, 4, 6, 7, 9); Steve Giordano: guitar, solos (4, 7, 8); Tim Lokan: bass: Massimo: drums, percussion, keys, samples, all compositions, drum solo (7), synth solos (4, 8).
Tracks: Pegasus; Melody on Wood; Traveller’s Wife; Traveller’s Defense; 1000 Ways; Ballet; Across the Sun; Introitus; Fiojo; Tarantella; Ballerina; The Madonna; Postludum.