It is amazing what can be produced when people work together. For example, think of the massive cathedrals in Italy, more specifically in the Italian city of Siena. Siena's cathedral, the Duomo, begun in the 12th century, is one of the great examples of Italian gothic architecture. The interior of the Duomo has marvelous font with bas-reliefs by Donatello, Ghiberti, Jacopo della Quercia and other 15th-century sculptors. All the artists worked together and gave freely of their gifts to produce a thought provoking experience still enjoyed today, nine centuries later.
A similar lasting experience can be achieved when a group of highly talented musician work together, which is the case with Tom Knific's release, Siena. Knific, a professor of double bass and Director of Jazz Studies at Western Michigan University calls upon the talents of ten other musicians to explore three standards and six originals. However, this is not a large ensemble recording; instead Knific presents the material in various combinations of duos, trios and one song with a quartet. The instrumentation is as follows: bass/guitar, bass/voice, bass/piano/violin, bass/piano/drums, bass/guitar/piano, bass/guitar/voice, and bass/piano/drums/saxophone. After reading the preceding configurations, one might be concerned with the overall flow of the CD, and rightfully so considering most projects like this leave the listener feeling like a passenger on an international flight hearing multiple second hand conversations with no interaction or flow. However, Knific takes you on a first class, non-stop flight where all of the players share the same language and form a cohesive program that the listener can sit back, enjoy, and bask in the beauty of Siena.
The production is good; my only complaint is the piano is mixed to far back on tracks 3, 4, and 7. There is a nice variance of styles and the order of the tracks yield an enjoyable listening experience.
"If I Should Lose You" is given a nice lyrical straight-ahead treatment with a very nice solo and outro by pianist Fred Hersch. The bass/voice pairing on "You Don't Know What Love Is" allows both Knific and vocalist Sunny Wilkinson to freely explore the beautiful Raye/DeFaul ballad. Performed by a trio consisting of Knific, Abercrombie and LaVerne, "A Nice Idea," by guitarist John Abercrombie, is another highlight with a relaxed straight eight pulse and open harmony with a nice modern solo by Abercrombie. Guitarist Gene Bertoncini's "Que Cosa," an up-tempo swing with some Spanish tinges, gets the feet-a-tappin’ with nice solos by both Knific and Bertoncini. Billy Drewes gives a very enjoyable performance on LaVerne's beautiful Latin composition, "Dark Angel." Drewes sound and phrasing brings to mind the late great Stan Getz.
The Italian City of Siena is also known for Sienna, a form of limonite clay most famous in the production of a yellow-brown oil paint pigments. As a natural pigment, it was one of the first pigments to be used by humans, and is found in many cave paintings. The warm natural color Sienna could also be used to describe Tom Knific's October 2004 release Siena, on Sea Breeze Records. Siena is an enjoyable journey for anyone that likes a relaxing set of songs performed by various small cohesive all-star ensembles. Sit back and enjoy the warm natural tones of Siena.