As both leader and collaborator, the versatile drummer Mark Guiliana spends much of his time exploring jazz’s fascinating fringes, producing some of his best music in the place where EDM and free-improv intersect.
He first rose to prominence as a member of bassist Avishai Cohen’s trio, in which he contributed deft yet highly emotive drum work to acclaimed albums such as Lyla (2003) and Gently Disturbed (2008). Later, as the leader of the jazz trio Heernt, Guiliana released Locked In The Basement, which found him pivoting toward a style he called “experimental-garage-jazz.”
With 2010’s Beat Music, Guiliana honed in on a crisp and intelligent electro-jazz sound that would become an integral facet of his jazz identity, one that he would develop further alongside pianist Brad Mehldau on 2014’s Mehliana: Taming The Dragon. And in 2016, he famously served as the drummer for the backing band on David Bowie’s final album, Blackstar, in a combo led by tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin.
With his latest album, Guiliana returns home—in more ways than one. Due out Sept. 29 on the Motéma label, Jersey (Motéma) finds the drummer at the helm of a straightahead jazz quartet featuring saxophonist Jason Rigby, pianist Fabian Almazan and bassist Chris Morrissey. What’s more, the program presents original music by Guiliana and his collaborators in an entirely acoustic environment, a tactic that, for Guiliana, presented both opportunities and obstacles.
“For the band, this lineup presents the challenge: How creative can we be inside this box?” said Guiliana in a press statement. “How much freedom and experimentation can we find? … I have to say that it’s always so exciting to hear the guys play this music in ways I never could have imagined.”
The album is also a tribute Guiliana’s geographical roots. Born and raised in 1980 in Florham Park, New Jersey, Guiliana first discovered jazz in high school through his first drum teacher Joe Bergamini, and later graduated from William Paterson University in Wayne. He held longtime residences in Jersey City and Hoboken, and now resides in Madison with his wife, singer Gretchen Parlato, and their toddler son.
On Jersey, the acoustic setting serves as an incubator for Guiliana’s rhythmic creativity and technical facility. Case in point is the title track, which DownBeat is premiering below. Listen with careful attention to the tenor saxophone solo by Rigby, and notice how Guiliana’s skittering snare work and punchy toms add an almost phosphorescent sheen:
The tune is one of six compositions by the drummer, along with the atmospheric “September,” swinger “Big Rig Jones” and solo drum piece “Rate,” an acronymic tribute to drum heroes Roy (Haynes), Art (Blakey), Tony (Williams) and Elvin (Jones). Two more tracks, “Our Lady” and “The Mayor Of Rotterdam,” are characteristically tune-rich contributions penned by bassist Morrissey.
“BP,” another highlight, is a piece by Rich Hinman, a guitarist friend of Guiliana. The sole cover is a moving interpretation of David Bowie’s “Where Are We Now?” (from Bowie’s second-to-last album, The Next Day).
“It’s a ‘thank you’ to David, for the incredible experience of working with him,” says Guiliana. “This is my way of paying tribute to him, but in an entirely different sonic context from Blackstar.”