Michel Gentile and Tony Romano
FLESH AND STEEL—Deep Tone Records. Web: www.deeptonerecords.com. A Felicidade; Chorinho pra Ele; Flesh and Steel; Triste; Chega de Suadade; Estate; Tristeza; Moon and Sand; How Deep The Ocean; Displicente
PERSONNEL: Michel Gentile, flute; Tony Romano, nylon string guitar
By Cathy Gruenfelder
Guitarist Tony Romano and flutist Michel Gentile are one of the most exciting tag teams on the scene today. Their style of playing, although informed by Brazilian music, and making use of that repertoire, seems to defy genre. They play with the always universal and timeless approach of communicating in the moment with big ears and a sense of adventure. I have managed to see them live a few times around New York since this album was released, and their set is always different, because the day is different and the moment is different. This of course is true to an extent, for all jazz groups, but they truly make each tune and each performance a new exploration. Nevertheless, there are some very unique and definite arrangements that the two take into account during a performance, but the line between what is composed and improvised is often blurred.
The album begins in a dramatic fashion with Romano laying down some spacious but powerful forte guitar lines in a minor key at the bottom register of his guitar that summoned my attention immediately. Suddenly, Gentile comes in with some fluttering and flowering over-blowing reminiscent of Jethro Tull as the two settle into Jobim’s “A Felicidade." The power of the opening moment turns into a melancholy beauty as the two navigate the tune with a restrained intensity. Gentile’s flute lines are aching with feeling, while remaining simple and beautiful—letting the tune and his gorgeous tone do the work. Romano lays a harmonic and rhythmic bed that leaves nothing lacking. The two are acutely attuned to each other’s momentous creations.
“Chorinho pra Ele" is a quirky Brazilian tune by the man that many have referred to as the Thelonious Monk of Brazilian music—Hermeto Pascoal. The pretty yet funky melody consists of straight eighth notes, without much variation or breaks, and then a second section in double time. The two players navigate the tune with humor and a playful spontaneity, yet they remain telepathically tight.
Gentile’s cadenza on his original tune, “Flesh and Steel" is stunning. He blows with such intensity, and he hums while blowing, giving us two voices instead of one, and you can hear the exaltation in his voice. Romano answers him with a free spirited improvisation of his own that is both poignant and beautiful while coming off extremely relaxed and contemplative. You can almost hear one of them whisper “yea" at one of those discovery moments—one of those ‘it’ moments, where the muses are dancing freely, and there are many of those moments on this cut which is surely one of the highlights of the disc, and an apt track to choose for the title.
The intimacy and meditative quality of this disc makes it all the more intense—instead of blowing you over, they suck you into the moods they create. You can imagine this music being played at either a street corner in a favela in Rio, or a concert hall. There is so much virtuosity here, but it’s infused into often childlike and egoless explorations.
Jobim’s “Triste" starts as the most stoic of the tracks—very straight, with not much reworking and improvisation, and it offers a chance for Romano to show his bossa chord chops, but then it turns into a sort of minimalist modal exploration with Romano playing a single note repeatedly with other syncopated notes thrown in as he plays with the time feel and meter while Gentile improvises above him.
Jobim’s “Chega de Saudade" given a gorgeous treatment. The arrangement is completely in service to the tune. Romano arpeggiates the rich melancholy chord progression, but then when the solo section starts, he and Gentile go back and forth with a sort of call and response before intertwining into each other.
Romano has a way of letting chords, or musical ideas speak for themselves—of showing you things without forcing you to see them—allowing you to come to your own conclusions. Such is the case on the opening of “Tristeza" as he lays down a series of potent and unsettling chords that act a tension building prelude to this fast and short Bossa Nova.
Gentile is a very spontaneous player who is a free explorer—not in the sense of playing free, but exploring a song and a melody like it is an inviting jungle that is full of strange and beautiful sights. You can hear his youthful enthusiasm and the magic of the moment that he is enraptured by. Such is the case on “Moon and Sand."
Irvin Berlin’s “How Deep is the Ocean" is a nice change of pace, but it is not given the treatment that one might expect. Again, the two approach it with a universal, un-affected musical sense that defies genre. Approached in a somewhat rubato way, the two players are completely attuned to each others sense of time, even when it is not so defined. Gentile is able to fluctuate on top of Romano when he is being consistent, and vice versa, yet it comes off smooth as butter.
The melody of “Displicente" is taken by Romano in a single note fashion, and then Gentile replies as Romano goes into a bossa feel. But throughout the tune, Romano re-enters as a melodic voice. He fluctuates between playing chords, arpeggios, bass lines, and melody, which makes for a very exciting arrangement.
These two players are kindred spirits, completely in tune to each other’s musical spirits. They are like a good dance team, but not in the sense of being well choreographed. I guess it would be like they were dancing the tango—a sort of dance that is improvised yet extremely detailed, and that requires trust, empathy, risk, focus and lots of skill to pull off with beauty.