March 23rd, 2021
Just over a year after releasing There From Here, their debut record—and taken from the same sessions, held at the Grant Avenue Studio in Hamilton, Ontario in November 2018— TuneTown’s second outing, Entering Utopia, acts as a resolute continuation of the trio’s initial statement and paints the three equal leaders in the light of a varied program, combining lyrical balladry in one moment with uncompromising swing in the next.
Each of TuneTown’s contributors is a respected leader in his own right. That alone is not rare, but what makes this particular trio gathering special is how all three leaders share rather reserved musical personalities in their own projects, making for an especially attentive collaboration between subtle voices here. Following the tendencies of their personalities, the players’ respective compositions reveal understated melodies with tight structures, unveiled by slick interplay and a close-up, modern sonic production.
Drummer Ernesto Cervini and bassist Artie Roth each contribute three compositions which are joined by four collaborative improvisations and two standards—Charlie Parker’s “Cheryl,” and “Blue Gardenia,” the title tune to the 1953 Fritz Lang movie of the same name.
Over time, Cervini has developed into a compositional chameleon—but trading visual camouflage for that of musical style and genre. His opening contribution “Hello, Today” is a casual romp with laid-back pace, offering room for plenty of snare rolls, slinky bass lines and bending saxophone articulation. “Layla Tov,” on the other hand, represents the drummer’s vision of a folkloric spiritual in the vein of Charles Lloyd’s elegiac work. Kelly Jefferson’s soprano saxophone takes center stage on this one, delivering a warm melody with heart-felt emotion, while voices and laughter (courtesy of Cervini’s wife and kids) rumble in the background. With “Billyish,” Cervini pays his fellow drummer Bill Stewart respect in a straight-ahead swing-blues exercise.
The Roth-penned numbers on the album tend towards a more open approach, relying on the inner dynamics of the band interplay as opposed to strict forms. Patiently building momentum on the title track and gaining drive in a similar way throughout “Sycamore,” the group’s language appears most fluent here. Improvisations interlock with each other instead of succeeding one another, while Cervini’s steady pulse incites his companions to find their most expressive selves. “Memories Remain” features the album’s standout sax performance and unveils a ravishing ballad.
Contrasting with each other by nature, the standards and collective improvisations on Entering Utopia tug at opposite strings, opening the set up to space and spontaneity on one side and keeping the program grounded in tradition on the other. The half-minute double bass recording “Looking Glass” is the only snippet on here which seems misplaced, as a flanger-echo effect pulls it into Pink Floyd The Wall territory. “Cheryl” hits hard and fast, whereas “Blue Gardenia” closes the proceedings on a wistful note and sees Cervini discarding his drum sticks for bass clarinet—a welcome late surprise and highlight on the record.
Due to the improvisatory bits dispersed across the album, and the occasional post-production surgery or switch of the effect knob, Entering Utopia can be considered slightly more experimental than its predecessor. But the two albums line up nicely and present an inspired trio in the midst of finding its own, collective voice. And things are shaping up nicely.