BEING A local jazz drummer, Tony Martucci doesn't get a chance to call the shots very often, so you could hardly blame him if he occasionally turned his quintet's debut album into an advertisement for himself. Yet "Earth Tones" is a far cry from being self-serving. It's a first-class ensemble effort, a straight-ahead session featuring a strong cast and solid writing.
Not that Martucci is shy about making his presence known. Beginning on the opening track, a bright, jaunty theme composed by pianist Marc Cohen, Martucci brings both color and drive to his solos and, save for the contemplative (or at least a partially contemplative) "Tekke" and "Le Sei Rose Di Maria," maintains a crisp, swingingly insistent sound along with bassist Drew Gress.
A pair of Thelonious Monk tunes -- "Eronel" and "Monk's Mood" -- are typical of the album's mostly angular themes. Like the pieces composed by Martucci and Cohen, they take advantage of the way saxophonist Joe Lovano and Ellery Eskelin manage to complement and inspire each other. At their most venturesome, the horns vigorously push the music beyond mainstream niceties without overdoing it, and Cohen's harmonically sophisticated, cliche-free settings and improvisations create an additionally tart edge.
THE TONY MARTUCCI QUINTET -- "Earth Tones" (Sound Judgement). Appearing Friday and Saturday at One Step Down.