(photos by Jonathan Doster)
Press Quotes: From "Old Tea" CD:
As a tribute, it is a worthy one indeed featuring interesting tunes and dedicated playing from a fine guitarist. The leader has found excellent partners in his choice of Fonda and Schuller, with Fonda displaying nimble virtuosity on the bass and Schuller displaying both power and imagination from the drum chair. One admirable aspect of this CD is that neither Musillami's playing nor writing sound the least bit derivative or clichéd, yet this music is immediately accessible without resorting to extremes -- a feat increasingly harder to pull off these days. Recommended.
— David Kane, Cadence
Music is many things to many people, but one of those things is heartfelt personal expression, and this music is indeed beautiful and expressive. Performed by his longstanding trio of Joe Fonda on bass and George Schuller on drums, the 11 compositions are intricately composed modern jazz that make room for adventurous and, of course, expressive improvisation.
— Lucas Gillan, AccuJazz.com
More than just a requiem, Musillami's compositions are simultaneously a lamentation for the loss of a son and a celebration of his life, vividly recalled in a series of 11 affecting songs that Musillami, a longtime Connecticut favorite, says are "like a prayer at a shrine." Musillami has never played with more impassioned eloquence, mixing moods of profound sadness with sonic snapshots of bright moments from Ev's life. His compositions provide a full, rich portrait of his son, capturing his irrepressible spirit of youth and the open-mindedness of "a diverse cat, a smart guy who would listen to everybody, from Béla Bartók to Tom Waits."
— Owen McNally, Hartford Courant
Guitarist Michael Musillami, bassist Joe Fonda and drummer George Schuller have long been one of the most tightly knit trios. But on Old Tea, they attain a new level of closeness. Recorded following the suicide of the leader's son, the album personifies support system. Drawing positive emotion and bounding energy from each other at a difficult time, the musicians sidestep sentimentality to deliver a moving and sometimes overpowering celebration of "a beautiful, brilliant kid."
— Lloyd Sachs, DownBeat
With such musical lucidity and collective empathy, this group is doubtless a source of solace and an artistic outlet for this extraordinarily expressive guitarist.
— Glen Hall, Exclaim!
(photos by Willy Schuyken)
"There is more to creative mastership than the surface of satisfaction and political certainty. The music of Joe Fonda is part of a living tradition of belief and dedication. Future historians will be surprised at the breadth of Mr. Fonda's offerings. This is a real virtuoso and composer of the highest order." -Anthony Braxton, 1996
"Since it’s his date, George Schuller does get room for more drum features than if it was, say, a saxophonist’s CD. But like his sibling, he never tries to draw attention to himself with overlong, noisy imprudence. More likely you can comment on the chess-master’s skill with which he position each beat. On his own and as part of the bigger picture he keeps bass drum and snare rhythm going, but is just as likely to express himself in quick flams, rim shots and with a variety of ancillary percussion including cowbells, maracas and a bell tree." — Jazz Weekly (1/03)
"George Schuller's talent on Hellbent lies in his ability to keep the quartet together through periods of order and disorder. He uses drums, rather than cymbals, much of the time to sharpen edges and provide
contrast. Schuller's playing is particularly refreshing because he doesn't generally play on (or off) the beat--instead, he comes in and out unexpectedly, dancing around the pulse. You always know it's there, but nobody's offering any formal demonstration." --- AllAboutJazz (1/03)
"Russ Johnson is simply amazing. His melodicism, energy and tone make him sound like the best new trumpet voice since Dave Douglas." – cadence magazine
"Johnson's sterling sound and quicksilver mind place him firmly in the modern jazz tradition." – Down Beat
"Johnson is a player with crisp articulation and intriguing ideas." – JazzTimes
"beautifully melodic and yet harmonically challenging" — AllAboutJazz
(photo by Jonathan Doster)- Michael Millami Trio + 4
Musillami will be with his flagship trio featuring bassist Joe Fonda and drummer George Schuller, which marked its 11th anniversary as a working unit in 2013. The trio will be joined by trumpeter Russ Johnson for the Cliff Bells, Merriman's Playhouse, and Skylark performances.
"Musillami's trio, his alliance with his longtime friends and collaborators, bassist Joe Fonda and drummer George Schuller, is a superb, finely tuned unit, empathetic, swinging and dramatically expressive of emotions sweeping from joy to sadness," explains the Hartford Courant's Owen McNally in his recent feature article. "More impressive than longevity, however, is the trio's remarkably tight, cohesive unity. Nurtured by Musillami's celebratory music, the band functions as a musical family, a democratic clan in which everyone expresses himself."
Critics have called the group's music "truly original" (Michael G. Nastos, AllMusic.com), "challenging and adventurous" (Bill Beuttler, Boston Globe), "scintillating and provocative" (Bill Milkowski, The Absolute Sound) and "honest, frequently surprising and consistently exciting" (Ron Wynn, JazzTimes). "Working on an almost telepathic level," adds Cadence reviewer Troy Collins, "they have developed an innate familiarity with each other that enables them to second guess abrupt tempo changes and harmonic detours with split second timing. Although the trio certainly doesn't need any help navigating Musillami's compelling tunes, they are occasionally joined by a few guest soloists, always to remarkable effect."
Musillami's career spans more than 30 years and includes extensive work as a performer, bandleader/composer and educator.
Critics have called him "a superior guitarist" (John McDonough, DownBeat), "an adroit and creative musician" (Michael J. West, JazzTimes), "a fine composer of notable original music" (Michael G. Nastos, All Music Guide) and "a modern-day jazz master" (Roger Levesque, Edmonton Journal).
"His compositions develop in leisurely style from quiet simplicity to intricate complexity," explained Jack Massarik in Jazzwise, "and the ensemble playing is civilized, sophisticated and clean." The Boston Phoenix's Jon Garelick adds, "Musillami sounds familiar - this is swinging jazz guitar, after all - but not quite like anyone else."
Born and raised in California, Musillami was inspired early on by musicians including Chet Baker, John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Bill Evans. He studied with renowned guitarist Joe Diorio before moving permanently to the East coast in the early 1980's, working primarily in organ trios led by Richard "Groove" Holmes and Bobby Buster among others.
In addition to paying his dues as a sideman performing with musicians such as Junior Cook, Dewey Redman, and Curtis Fuller, he became a part of the circle of musicians connected to the Hillside Club in Waterbury, Connecticut, including frequent future collaborators Thomas Chapin and Mario Pavone.
He has since led and co-led a variety of ensembles, releasing 15 CDs as a leader and touring in the United States, Canada and Western Europe. Along with his longstanding flagship trio with bassist Joe Fonda and drummer George Schuller, he has earned critical notice as the leader of groups ranging from duo to octet featuring such prominent collaborators as Cameron Brown, Thomas Chapin, Drew Gress, Mario Pavone, Michael Sarin and Matt Wilson.
In 1999, Musillami founded the Playscape Recordings label to give himself more control over his recording career, and to provide other musicians with a supportive environment for creative music. Built around a cadre of frequent collaborators, the label has garnered extensive critical praise and a catalog of more than 40 diverse releases. "Like Blue Note or CTI in their prime," writes Signal to Noise reviewer John Chacona, "Michael Musillami's Playscape label has a signature sound."
In addition to his work as a performer, and overseeing the daily operations of Playscape Recordings, Musillami is also the longtime Director of Jazz Studies at The Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, CT.
Joe Fonda is a composer, bassist, recording artist, interdisciplinary performer, producer and educator.
An accomplished international Jazz artist, Fonda has performed with his own ensembles throughout the United States ,Canada, Europe and Asia. He has collaborated and performed with such artists as Anthony Braxton, Archie Shepp, Ken McIntyre, Lou Donaldson, Bill and Kenny Barron, Leo Smith, Perry Robinson, Dave Douglas, Curtis Fuller, Bill Dixon, Han Bennink, Bobby Naughton, Xu Fengia, Randy Weston, Gebhard Ullmann, Carla Bley, Carlo Zingaro, Barry Altschul, Billy Bang.
Fonda was the bassist with the renowned Anthony Braxton sextet, octet, tentet, from 1984 through 1999. Fonda also sat on the Board of Directors from 1994 to 1999, and was the President from 1997 to 1999 of the newly formed Tri-Centric Foundation. He has also performed with the 38-piece Tri-Centric Orchestra under the direction of Anthony Braxton, and was the bassist for the premiere performance of Anthony Braxton’s opera, Shalla Fears for the Poor, performed at the John Jay Theater in New York, New York, October 1996.
As a composer, Fonda has been the recipient of numerous grants and commissions From Meet the Composer New York and the New England Foundation on the Arts . He has released twelve recordings under his own name. (Reviews and recordings available). Fonda was also a member of The Creative Musicians Improvisors Forum directed by Leo Smith, and was the bassist with the American Tap Dance Orchestra in New York City, directed by world renowned tap dancer, Brenda Bufalino.
In 1989, Fonda performed with Fred Ho’s Jazz and Peking opera in its world premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. From 1982 to 1986 Fonda was the bassist and dancer with the Sonomama Dance Company. An independent producer since 1978, Fonda is the founding director of Kaleidoscope Arts an interdisciplinary performance ensemble and is the producer and musicial director for the Connecticut Composers and improvisors Festival from 2001 to 2011.
Currently Fonda has been recording and touring extensively with the Fonda-Stevens Group, Conference Call , The Fab Trio, The Nu Band and Bottoms Out , with performances at the Bim huis in Amsterdam, Holland, Prague Jazz Festival, Czech Republic, Jazz Halo Festival, Belgium, Jazz Festival Thurinsen, Weimer, Germany, Berlin Jazz Festival Berlin Germany , Jazz Im Agusto Festival Lisbon Portugal, Natt Jazz Festival Bergen Norway, The Vision Festival New York, New York, Jazz and More Festival Sibiu Romania, Bakau Jazz Festival, Azerbijan, Tondela Jazz Festival Tondala portugal, Vancouver Jazz Festival, Vancouver Canada, Guelph Jazz Festival, Guelph Canada .
Two of Fonda’s most recent projects are From the Source, The Off Road Quartet.
George Schuller (drums, composer, arranger, producer), a native of New York City, moved to Boston in 1967 where he was raised and educated, and later received a bachelor's degree in Jazz Performance at the New England Conservatory of Music in 1982. For the next twelve years, Schuller was a fixture on the Boston area jazz scene performing with Herb Pomeroy, Jaki Byard, Jerry Bergonzi, George Garzone, Mick Goodrick, John Lockwood, Ran Blake, Lisa Thorson, Billy Pierce, Bruce Gertz, Mili Bermejo, John LaPorta, Dominique Eade and Hal Crook.
In 1984, he co-founded the twelve-piece ensemble Orange Then Blue recording several acclaimed albums, including the 1999 release: Hold The Elevator: Live in Europe and Other Haunts on GM Recordings. Orange Then Blue toured extensively throughout the US, Canada, Middle East and Europe during the 90s.
Over the last two decades, Schuller has also released several albums as a leader including his first CD entitled Lookin Up From Down Below (GM), and two releases with the Schulldogs, Tenor Tantrums (New World) and Hellbent (Playscape). Schuller has also released recordings with Circle Wide Round'bout Now (Playscape) featuring Ingrid Jensen, and Like Before, Somewhat After (Playscape) featuring Donny McCaslin and Brad Shepik. More recently, Schuller has embarked on a series of piano trio recordings with Trio This That (GM) featuring co-leader Barney McAll, and George Schuller Trio Life's Little Dramas (Fresh Sound/New Talent) featuring Dan Tepfer.
Since 2004, Schuller has also released several different and wide-ranging recordings showcasing his diverse interests in many styles of improvisatory approaches including JigSaw (482 Music) featuring an all-star cast of New York improvisers (Tony Malaby, Mark Feldman, Dave Ballou), and the collective bands of Conference Call (482, Cleanfeed, Nottwo) and Free Range Rat (Cleanfeed).
In 1995 Schuller appeared on Joe Lovano's critically acclaimed album Rush Hour (Blue Note) with compositions and arrangements by Gunther Schuller. It was voted "Album of the Year" by Down Beat magazine. In addition, Schuller has performed and/or recorded with many of today's leading musicians including Lee Konitz, Mose Allison, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Nnenna Freelon, Ran Blake, Fred Hersch, Armen Donelian, Burton Greene, Tom Varner, Mark Helias, Joe Fonda, Dave Douglas, Herb Robertson, Drew Gress, Michael Jefry Stevens, Peter Yarrow, Liberty Ellman, Gebhard Ullmann, J Geils, Myra Melford, and The Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra.
Schuller has found himself on the other side of the glass producing several albums by Orange Then Blue, Luciana Souza, Ed Schuller, Joel Harrison, Jazz Composers Alliance, Ballin' The Jack, Mili Bermejo, Free Range Rat, Michael Musillami and Lisa Thorson. His compositions and arrangements have been recorded by Ran Blake, Burton Greene, Conference Call, Orange Then Blue, Ed Schuller, Carlo Morena, Mike Metheny, Ballin' The Jack, Your Neighborhood Sax Quartet, Trio This, Wilder/Woodman/LaPorta Sextet, Mili Bermejo and Lisa Thorson.
Major appearances with various bands have included US festivals in Chicago, Detroit, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Rochester, Ravinia, Sedonna, Discover, Sandpoint, and Lake George along with Canadian festivals in Montreal, Vancouver, Toronto, Guelph, Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa, Rimouski and Saskatoon as well as European festivals such as Berlin, Bolzano, Braga, Bergen, Northsea, Ost-West, Zagreb, Karava, Stavinger, AMR in Geneva, and many others. He has received several composition awards including a Massachusetts Artist Foundation Fellowship for Music Composition (1987), NEA Composition Grant (1995) as well as The Julius Hemphill Composition Award (2000).
Schuller presently resides in Brooklyn (since 1994) where he freelances in the New York City area performing with Ballin' The Jack, Michael Musillami, Burton Greene, Armen Donelian, Morena/Fonda Trio, Seunghee Han, Whirrr! (Music of Jimmy Giuffre), Russ Johnson's Out To Lunch (Music of Eric Dolphy), Yard Byard (Music of Jaki Byard) and Conference Call in addition to leading his own groups Circle Wide and George Schuller Trio.
Brooklyn based trumpeter Russ Johnson is an active performer in the jazz, improvised, and contemporary classical music scenes throughout the U.S. and abroad. In addition to leading his own groups, and co-leading The Other Quartet and New Math, Russ is currently touring as a member of Lee Konitz' new nonet and the Steve Swallow/Ohad Talmor "L'Histoire du Clochard" sextet. In addition, Russ has performed with a long list of musical heavyweights including; Kenny Wheeler, Bill Frisell, Joe Lovano, Richie Beirach, Mark Ribot, Charles Earland, David Liebman, Joe Maneri, The Jazz Passengers, Oliver Lake, Myra Melford, Anthony Davis, Mick Rossi, Elvis Costello, Debbie Harry, Michael Bublé, Curtis Fowlkes, Roy Nathanson, Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson, Brian Blade, Dick Oatts, Aretha Franklin, Tony Malaby, Jenny Scheinman, and Mat Maneri.
Russ is also active as an educator/clinician, having taught at colleges and universities across the U.S. and in Europe. He is currently teaching at The Center for Preparatory Studies in Music (CPSM) at Queens College, and is a member of the faculty at the Maine Jazz Camp.
His new recording, Save Big has recently been released on the OmniTone label to enthusiastic reviews. It is available online at OmniTone and amazon.com, as well as at Tower Records and other jazz outlets.
Russ Johnson is an Endorsing Artist for New York Trumpet Company, and plays NYTC by Possegger Bb trumpet exclusively.