Tom Rizzo

Imaginary Numbers

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Tom Rizzo's long-delayed debut recording as a leader is an impressive outing. Active since the early '70s as a professional guitarist, including stints with the Tonight Show Orchestra (where he also contributed as a composer/arranger), Maynard Ferguson, and Blood, Sweat & Tears, Rizzo started work on his dream project some six years prior to the record date. He recruited eight superb musicians, including two well-known names -- saxophonist Bob Sheppard and Bill Evans' final drummer, Joe La Barbera, plus trumpeter Bob Summers, trombonist Nick Lane (who contributed most of the arrangements), tuba player Ken Kugler, French horn player John Dickson, pianist Rich Eames, and bassist Tom Warrington. Rizzo shines as a composer, especially in his engaging duet on acoustic guitar with Sheppard (heard on soprano sax), with the composer overdubbing his brief solo on electric guitar. His "Sco-Mi" is a snappy hard bop vehicle with superb interplay. There are also several strong charts of jazz standards. The sizzling interpretation of Sonny Rollins' "Oleo" does not follow a predictable path. Opening with a punchy vamp, it lightly touches on the theme with the backing of unusual voicings, then showcases Sheppard's original tenor and the leader's intricate bop guitar. Trombonist J.J. Johnson's gorgeous "Lament," though it takes on an even more bittersweet air with Lane's sensitive scoring, showcases lush solos by Sheppard, Summers, Eames, and Rizzo in turn. The slow, luxurious setting of Benny Golson's "Along Came Betty" and the hip take of Nat Adderley's blues "One for Daddy-O," the latter arranged by Kugler, also merit praise. This all-around excellent record date led by Tom Rizzo merits a prompt follow-up session.

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