The Mark Tonelli Group

The Mark Tonelli Group

Mtonal Music

Mark Tonelli, guitar; Tito Charneco, tenor saxophone; Chris Riegger, alto saxophone; Jeff Fort, alto and soprano saxophones; Akira Sato, trumpet; Paul Tynan, flugelhorn; David Winslow, trombone; Dan Haerle, piano; Matt Wigton, bass, Brad Boal, drums

Straight-ahead sessions such as this 2001 offering from Mark Tonelli require evaluation in terms of the genre. To be sure, this is a group strongly rooted in convention, to the extent that it emphasizes diatonic chord changes, unison horn lines, and an improvisational approach based on theme-and-variation.  To be sure, the five original pieces (Night Shadows, Nine Miles From Home, Free, The Inner Game, and Sluppy) are pleasant and non-threatening, the sort aired regularly on all-Jazz radio stations like KCSM in the San Francisco Bay Area.   

Tonelli is at his best in groove-driven pieces like "The Inner Game", with its strong, non-metronomic bass line.  However, the unmistakable parallels between "Nine Miles From Home and "Zoot Sims Plays Four Altos, and between "Sluppy and Blue Mitchell,s "Fungii Mama" raise an issue at the core of this art.  Since the world is more complex than it was in the 1950s and 1960s, why not investigate new sonic effects within the straight-ahead Jazz genre?   Is the goal of improvisation to reconcile melodies with diatonic chord sequences and/or modal sources, or is a sonic universe waiting to be explored?   In "Free, Boal's" rhythmic palette expands as a function of a prevailing tonal center, and this contrasting approach suggests future direction for this emerging group.  

by James D. Armstrong, Jr.

Editor, Music in Transition

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