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photos by Albert Brooks

JIM SNIDERO w/Dave Calarco
Otto Gardner & George Muscatello
Justin's - Albany, NY
May 6 2006

by J Hunter

Dave Calarco has a favorite saying: “It is what it is.” I never asked the dynamic drummer what that means on a deeper level, but if I were to guess, it'd be: “That's life. That's reality. Don't bitch about it; deal with it.” Calarco had a fair bit of reality to handle last Saturday night, and he dealt with it splendidly.

Calarco was set to perform with alto saxman Jim Snidero, along with bassist Otto Gardner and guitarist Chuck D'Aloia; Gardner and D'Aloia were billed with Calarco as the “Reunion Trio”, because this would be the first time in some time that Nick Brignola's last rhythm section had worked together. Only this night would not be that time, because D'Aloia had developed severe (and, to his doctors, puzzling) health problems beginning Wednesday, and he was entering the hospital that afternoon.

Worrisome? To be sure. Inconvenient? Definitely. But, as Calarco himself said, “It is what it is.” As it turned out George Muscatello had taken the night off to see D'Aloia play with Snidero and company. As it turned out, he watched them play from the right side of the bandstand, as Snidero led the quartet through two smoking sets of standards ranging from Monk's “Blue Monk” and “Rhythm-a-Ning” to Joe Henderson's “Recorda-Me”, a tune Snidero covered brilliantly on The Music of Joe Henderson (Double-Time).

Snidero and Brignola (along with Calarco) had met many years ago at a jazz festival in Florida. “I played with Nick two or three times,” Snidero told us later that night. “And, frankly, I got my ass kicked!” On this night, it was Snidero that was kicking ass and taking names. It's fairly common for a tenor player to sound like an alto, but it's rare for an alto player to sound like a tenor. Snidero's alto has depth and, most importantly, breadth - a really fat sound that gives his blues more hue on “All The Things You Are” and “I Can't Get Started”. It's a unique gift that deserved more attention than the talkers in the back of the room were giving him.

More interesting than that (from a local standpoint, anyway) was seeing Muscatello in this matrix. While I'm well aware he has played with several groups, I've only seen George in concert with the Brian Patneaude Quartet, so seeing him pinch-hit for D'Aloia was definitely a new bag. Mind you, you couldn't tell it was new. Muscatello fell in with the veteran players like they'd been gigging together for years, and George brought a hard-body sound with a fusion sense that gave both his solos and his fills that special brightness we've come to know and love.

Calarco and Gardner may not have worked together for some time, but you couldn't put it past us. The chemistry between them was evident as they laid down a jumping, evolving base that caught anything that didn't sting. To watch Calarco is to watch the creation of a series of greater and greater explosions, as he mines the same veins that made Blakey and Roach legends. Even on slower tunes, he painted pictures with his brushes. Gardner, meanwhile, seemed to be drawing his stand-up into his body as he charged through the night, sometimes offering three different time changes within the same tune, and all of them appropriate for the shape of the music.

This was a time trip for me, because the last time I'd been at Justin's was twenty years ago, when the dining room was just a brick alleyway with a good menu, and the headliner was Nick Brignola. The people in the back of the room talked then, too; apparently when food is served, live music - even great music, like I saw on Saturday - is reduced to background. That's both rude and disrespectful. But then, it is what it is. My table was up front with the people who were there to listen. And we heard one hell of a show.

J HUNTER is a former announcer/producer for radio stations in the Capital Region and the Bay Area, including KSJS/San Jose (where he was Assistant Music Director/Jazz programming), Q104 WQBK/Albany, and WSSV/Saratoga. He has also written music and theatre reviews for the Glens Falls Chronicle. He currently resides in Clifton Park.