Michael Musillami News

October 6, 2020: New Release
PICTURES by Michael Musillami / Peter Madsen

On October 6, 2020, Playscape Recordings released Pictures, (PSR #090519), a duo recording by guitarist/composer Michael Musillami and pianist/composer and co-leader Peter Madsen. This is their second duo recording, following Part Pitbull released in 2002.

In Pictures, the duo draws inspiration from Pictures at an Exhibition, an 1874 suite by Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky as a memorial to his friend, Russian architect and painter Viktor Hartmann, who died in 1873 at age thirty nine. Shortly after the artist's death, Mussorgsky visited an exhibit of Hartmann's sketches, architectural and costume designs, which came from Hartmann's travels in Europe, and decided to capture the experience with musical depictions of ten paintings by Hartmann, interspersed with a recurring promenade.

"In 2002, Peter Madsen and I released our first duo recording titled Part Pitbull on the Playscape Recordings label," writes Musillami in his liner notes. "Before Part Pitbull we had been recording and touring in a quartet setting, but as we both loved the immediacy and quick reaction time one can experience in a duo setting, Part Pitbull was born. In this intimate duo setting we instinctively breath together, we recognize color and texture and react quickly and convincingly to each other with sensitivity as well as with power. The seamless rhythmic momentum and call and response is immediate, natural, and organic as we allow the music to go when and where it needs to go. We hope you enjoy your journey as much as we did as you promenade through our museum filled with our jazz heroes' Pictures."

Madsen adds, "In 2019, my longtime friend and musical partner Michael Musillami and I composed and improvised Pictures (at a Jazz Exhibition), a suite of nine piano and guitar duets plus varied Promenades. For our suite we composed pieces depicting our tour of an exhibition of some of our favorite jazz guitarists and pianists such as Cecil Taylor, Carla Bley, Thelonious Monk, Jim Hall and Joe Diorio, with each piece serving as a musical illustration of each of our heroes. Lots of Improvisations are included! But still cool music! Close your eyes! Open your ears! And see Pictures!!!"

Pictures was recorded by master engineer Nick Lloyd at Firehouse 12 in New Haven, Connecticut.

MICHAEL MUSILLAMI TRIO + 2 – Europe – March 2020
Michael Musillami - guitar
Joe Fonda - bass
George Schuller - drums
Thomas Heberer - trumpet
Jason Robinson - saxophones, flute

March 12 – Kulturzentrum Gems (Singen, Germany)
March 13 – Birdland (Neuburg, Germany)
March 14 – Gasthof Pummer (Heiligenkreuz, Austria)
March 15 – Porgy & Bess (Vienna, Austria)
March 16 – TBA
March 17 – Jazzclub Cavete (Marburg, Germany

The Michael Musillami Trio + 2 augments Musillami's long-standing core trio, featuring bassist Joe Fonda and drummer George Schuller, with the addition of Jason Robinson on saxophones and flute, and Thomas Heberer on the trumpet.

View the Life Anthem Video: Michael Musillami Trio +2

Michael Musillami

"His compositions develop in leisurely style from quiet simplicity to intricate complexity," writes Jack Massarik in Jazzwise, "and the ensemble playing is civilized, sophisticated and clean." The Boston Phoenix's Jon Garelick adds, "Musillami sounds familiar -- this is swinging jazz guitar, after all -- but not quite like anyone else."

Born and raised in California, Musillami studied with renowned guitarist Joe Diorio before moving to the east coast in the early 1980s, working primarily in organ trios led by Richard "Groove" Holmes and Bobby Buster, among others. In addition to paying his dues by sharing the stage with Junior Cook, Dewey Redman, and Curtis Fuller, Musillami became part of the circle of musicians connected to the Hillside Club in Waterbury, CT, throughout the 1980s.

Over his 40-year career, Musillami has led a variety of ensembles, releasing 20+ CDs and touring throughout North America, Canada and Europe. Along with his longstanding flagship trio with bassist Joe Fonda and drummer George Schuller, he has earned critical notice as the leader of groups ranging from duo to octet, featuring such prominent collaborators as Mark Feldman, Cameron Brown, Drew Gress, Michael Sarin, and Matt Wilson.

In 1999, Musillami founded Playscape Recordings to give himself more control over his recording career and support other musicians. Built around a cadre of frequent collaborators, the label has garnered extensive critical praise and a catalog of more than 70 diverse releases. "Like Blue Note or CTI in their prime," writes Signal to Noise reviewer John Chacona, "Michael Musillami's Playscape label has a signature sound."

When not working with his own bands or managing his record label, he also teaches at The Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut.

Learn more at playscape-recordings.com.

Michael Musillami Trio

"Working on an almost telepathic level," writes Troy Collins, "they have developed an innate familiarity with each other that enables them to second guess abrupt tempo changes and harmonic detours with split-second timing.

"Musillami's trio, his alliance with his longtime friends and collaborators, bassist Joe Fonda and drummer George Schuller, is a superb, finely tuned unit, empathetic, swinging and dramatically expressive of emotions sweeping from joy to sadness," says Owen McNally of the Hartford Courant in his recent feature article. "More impressive than longevity, however, is the trio's remarkably tight, cohesive unity. Nurtured by Musillami's celebratory music, the band functions as a musical family, a democratic clan in which everyone expresses himself."

Critics have called the group's music "truly original" (Michael G. Nastos, AllMusic.com), "challenging and adventurous" (Bill Beuttler, Boston Globe), "scintillating and provocative" (Bill Milkowski, The Absolute Sound) and "honest, frequently surprising and consistently exciting" (Ron Wynn, JazzTimes). "Working on an almost telepathic level," adds Cadence reviewer Troy Collins, "they have developed an innate familiarity with each other that enables them to second guess abrupt tempo changes and harmonic detours with split second timing. Although the trio certainly doesn't need any help navigating Musillami's compelling tunes, they are occasionally joined by a few guest soloists, always to remarkable effect."

For further information about the individual musicians, visit their respective websites: joefonda.com, georgeschuller.net, jasonrobinson.com, and thomasheberer.com.

New Release:
DIG - (music inspired by and dedicated to Bill Evans)
by Michael Musillami & Rich Syracuse

On October 1, 2019, Playscape Recordings released Dig - (music inspired by and dedicated to Bill Evans) (PSR #030519), a duo recording by veteran guitarist/composer Michael Musillami and master bassist and co-leader Rich Syracuse. This is the duo's third recording, following Of the Night (the music of Wayne Shorter) released in 2016 and Bird Calls (the music of Charles Mingus) released in 2017.

After continually adding music composed or inspired by Bill Evans to their live performance repertoire, Musillami and Syracuse felt a strong desire to document an open and expansive vision of Evans often played pieces. The duo, manipulating harmonic content, time and color wanted to put their stamp on the music they had been listening to for 40+ years.

In veteran pianist Peter Madsen's liner notes, composed for this release, he writes, "For me the artistic expression of inner feelings through music reached a highpoint with the playing of this genius poet of the piano! Bill Evans presence in the jazz world through his improvisations and compositions has strongly affected not only pianists but also musicians on all instruments who strive to follow in his path of beauty, creativity and deep communication. The CD you are now holding is a perfect example demonstrating how his influence has motivated two great musicians of today to honor the great Bill Evans by using his compositions and pieces he has made famous as vehicles for their creative musical explorations! On this CD, brilliant guitarist Michael Musillami and creative double bassist Rich Syracuse dig deep into standards like 'Blue in Green', 'Nardis' and 'All Blues' as well as some not so famous masterpieces like '12 Tone Tune', 'Bill's Hit Tune' and 'How My Heart Sings'."

"The CD's second track, 'Twelve Tone Tune' takes the listener on an open-ended avant-romp that tugs on the strings of convention," says Musillami. "On 'Nardis', written by Miles Davis and one of my favorite pieces, we deconstructed the song form to suit the moment with unpredictable results. Even Rich and I were surprised at the roadmap we created on the spot."

Dig was recorded by master engineer Nick Lloyd at Firehouse 12 in New Haven, Connecticut.

New Release:
by Michael Musillami Trio + 2

On June 5th, Playscape Recordings released Life Anthem (PSR#091717), featuring veteran guitarist/composer Michael Musillami with his flagship trio. Life Anthem is Musillami's ninth Playscape Recordings release with the trio, featuring bassist Joe Fonda and drummer George Schuller. As he has done in the past, for this latest release Musillami augmented the trio with the addition of cornetist Kirk Knuffke and Jason Robinson on saxophones and flute.

"The MM Trio has been creating music since 2002, with our first release, Beijing being released in 2003," writes Musillami in his liner notes. "It has been, and continues to be, a wonderful journey filled with multiple tours to Canada and Europe, as well as our home in America. Life Anthem offers the trio in full bloom, fearless and on fire. The addition of Jason Robinson and Kirk Knuffke punctuates our message in all CAPS!!!"

Life Anthem documents Musillami's journey back from sudden illness followed by a months-long recovery during which this music was composed. On June 8th, 2016 Musillami woke up with what he termed as a "crashing headache." After waiting two days with what he thought was a migraine, he found himself in a life or death situation after an ambulance ride to the ER followed by a flurry of tests which revealed not only a brain hemorrhage, but (oddly) an unrelated brain tumor.

"I opened and closed this record with the title tune Life Anthem, because it is an optimistic melody," writes Musillami. "For the opening track I asked each player to play this melody alone, their own way, as they think it should be played. All renditions were beautiful.

The simplicity and warm tone Kirk achieved on his horn made for a perfect opener. The most beautiful things in life can be the most simple. We closed the set out with the full ensemble in a spirited, open and free reading of the melody, Life Anthem."

"The music contained on this CD was written during late June, July and August of 2016 as I slowly recovered from my ordeal," writes Musillami. "I am happy to report that I am fine and better than ever."