Fourth Coast Entertainment -

By R. O Donnell
Staff Writer 

A Fine Line CD Review

"Conversations, Vol I" A Real Jazz Triumph (Final)


Last updated 8/2/2015 at 12:40pm

A while back, I was sitting with an old pal talking about nothing more than nothing. Stories past and present were being sacrificed and pondered while sipping gracious cups of jitter juice, a pot belly rip-roaring between us. Outside mother nature pushed her gorgeous face against the patio glass; visions of super white dusted timbers leading to a clearing framed the Black Lake splendor of a North American winter. Picture-perfect.

Our soundtrack was North American cool by way of New Orleans, a super fine mix of Jazz classics that transported us to cosmopolitan haunts. As one tune after another cradled our conversations, I jumped up to give praise to the compositions floating, swirling all around us: A Fine Line CD titled "Conversations, Vol I" (appropriate and synchronistic). To say the least, I was mesmerized. Their sound was so mature, real, and filled with old spirits of the gutbucket sound that I was instantly transported to my youthful Big Apple days. I could smell the salty peanuts and beer of Jazz hot spots such as Birdland, Sweet Rhythm, and The Blue Note. I was expecting "good" but this was "hot" and another example of an underrated flourishing North American music scene.

"Conversations, Vol I" offered by Jazz duo Bill Vitek (piano) and Dan Gagliardi (bass) with Mike Magilligan on drums, is a hot plate of the great American songbook expertly exposed, peeled back to reveal a superb trio elegantly blending ensemble and solos with a solid flair for open space – a somewhat transcendent experience indeed. This is a smooth sampler with some very hip interpretations reminisant of the Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett trios of the 60s and 70s. The recording was done live in a comfortable living room, (intimate house concerts are all the rage) with and without an audience and the effect couldn't be better. The energy is ecstatic, the recording pure with engineering by Allan Cox all fine-tuned to sound as if you're comfortably sandwiched at a cabaret table in some South Louisiana Juke Joint. Happy accidents and professional wisdoms help produce a CD that takes us back to the dawning of the Jazz movement captured on the very few vinyls of the day.

Every track has heart, every groove has spirit, and every song takes you on an original journey. From the first tune "You Are Too Beautiful" written by Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers and originally performed by everyone from Al Jolson in 1933 to Frank Sinatra in 1946, A Fine Line quickens the form, replacing a tired vocal with a sultry piano and bass tête-à-tête, and the snare whispering rhythmically away. You'll be hooked. "Just in Time" written by Adolph Green, Betty Comden, and Jule Styne and was originally made famous by Sydney Chaplin and Judy Holliday (1956) and more recently by Tony Bennett with Michael Bublé (2006), this performance sets the table, giving you an elastic riff of the original phrase before jumping into an open space of fireworks driving their devoted fans wild. A personal favorite, "This Can't Be Love" also written by Rodgers and Hart for their wildly successful 1933 musical "The Boys from Syracuse," had my foot ratatap-tapping as the melody played a melodic game of hide and seek – brilliant.

Bill Vitek and Dan Gagliardi are salty musicians having played a decade worth of gigs from the Thousand Islands to the Adirondack Park, and all those quaint honky-tonk towns in between. They've partnered with a lot of super fine Skins players but it was North Country newcomer Mike Magilligan, who created the perfect "A Fine Line sound." Magilligan's real and innovative rhythms never overpower, never detract from Vitek and Gagliardi's graceful glide into the wide open spaces. He's simply another brother to the mix, tossing out a few delicious licks like a tasty icing on the cake.

The maturity of the sound, the passion and the heart comes from a variety of experiences that are not necessarily gig related, and that's a real blessing here. The jaded jazzman has been touting their less than stellar wares for quite some time, so this Rocky-esque approach is a winning ingredient. Mike Magilligan fills his nine to five duties as a librarian at the Canton campus of the State University of New York (SUNY). I would imagine his knowledge of the written word lends a bit of imagination to the score. Dan Gagliardi is a professor of mathematics, also at SUNY Canton, and as music and numbers have always walked the thin fine line, it seems appropriate that his other hat hang in the halls of academic numeration. Bill Vitek's other profession is as a philosophy professor at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York, and again, seems the perfect mindset for a sensitive interpretive piano player.

But make no mistake, they are all skilled musicians. Gagliardi has studied classical and Jazz bass at the prestigious Manhattan School of Music's Preparatory Division, and at the Eastman School of Music with James B. Vandermark. He also studied with classical bassist Homer Mensch and Jazz with Mike Richmond and has played with Tom Harrell, Bruce Barth, and Steve Hobbs, among others. Bill studied piano with Ray Bozenski and Frank Stagnitta as well as arranging and producing three award-winning Jazz nursery rhyme recordings with Josh Greenberg titled "Rhythm and Rhyme," "Go With the Flow" and "See How They Run." Mike hails from the innovative New York City Jazz scene. A Long Island transplant, he is inspired by Pandit Samir Chatterjee, with whom he has been studying tabla in the traditional Hindustani musical tradition for the last fifteen years.

"Conversations, Vol I" is gratifying, filling every nook and cranny of my home with Lerner and Loewe's 1947 classic "Almost Like Being in Love." As their music amends the raging winter outside my windows, turning all and everything into a warm hypnotic glow, I'm content knowing a true Jazz experience has been preserved for all.


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