Since its May 1st release, Just Play can be heard on a growing number of both terrestrial and internet radio stations across the globe. On November 29th of 2007, Just Play won the Los Angeles Independent Music Award in the Instrumental Jazz Category. Shades of Blue was a Top 5 Winner in the Great American Song Contest.
"Not only is he a great drummer, but his compositional skills are superb ... and he did a fantastic job producing the entire album! Craig arranged all three of his own tunes and was co-arranger of all the jazz standards which fills out the rest of the album. Impressed yet? Wait to you hear his playing!
Every tune on this instrumental jazz CD breaths and has life. It's obvious that each instrumentalist gave it their all; playing with a lot of passion, heart and soul. The overall vibe of the album comes off with a live feel, even though it was recorded in a recording studio (Wolftone Studios, Reseda, CA). When it comes to jazz, I think this is extremely important ingredient; it's what jazz really is ... spontaneous, 'in the moment', music.
I first listened to this CD in my car without checking out the track list. I got past the first tune and thought 'nice playing'. With about a minute passing on track 2, I said outloud (I'm alone in the car mind you) "I know this tune ..." amd quickly went for the liner notes. Reading outloud "'Autumn Leaves' ... what a great arrangement!" I think I made verbal praises on every tune, not just for the playing (every instrumentalist is great), but the arrangements really got me ... especially on the standards. I think it's worth mentioning at this time that Just Play has been nominated for two Los Angeles Music Awards in the Instrumental Jazz category!
As I listen to the CD while writing this review, I try to think back and reflect on why I like the album so much. I believe one of the biggest positives I get from Just Play is all the space, sound and color ... ala Joe Zawinul / Cannonball Adderley. Another reason I dig this album, besides that it just makes me smile, is that I can hear all of the influences of Craig's teachers/instructors in his playing. Dave Weckl, Jeff Hamilton, Ed Soph and the late Alan Dawson whom I was also fortune to briefly study with. I can think of no greater tribute to one's mentor than to hear them in what you do. Craig has definitely done this ... and more ... coming into his own with his unique musical language and approach.
Young players and students of drumming may be wondering ... what about the drumming? Well, Craig Pilo has a lot to say, and what he does say ... he says very well. The drum sounds on the CD are great, and drums are mixed up front ... where they should be!!! The listener will quickly be able to hear that Pilo has a strong understanding of the jazz/funk/latin music styles, not to mention the firm hold he has on polyrhythms, rhythmic displacment, odd note groupings/figures. But the beauty in all of this lies not in that Craig Pilo has a lot of chops and can solo his tokus off ... rather that he knows how and when to use them to make music ... which is what it's all about ... right?! No short-cuts here. Musicianship comes with time and seasoning, and Pilo has been marinating a very long time.
Just Play features a wonderful line-up of musicians, all working together to bring you an in-the-pocket musical chemistry that will make you want to listen to the CD again and again ... and spend hours in the practice room. And speaking of practice room, let me end with a quote from the CD's liner notes:
"Often times worrying about what's appropriat, acceptable, traditional, or correct can prevent us from doing anything at all. The simple fear of being criticized for doing our own thing can damn us to our practice rooms without ever seeing the light of day. At some point, I honestly feel it's important to let the critics be critics, and for better or worse ... Just Play." — Craig Pilo"
- Drummers Cafe December 2007
"Connecticut native Craig Pilo has been a Los Angeles-based studio drummer since graduating from the University of North Texas College of Music in the 1990s. His musical evolution has included recording and touring gigs with everyone from Pat Boone to Maynard Ferguson and Frankie Valli. But his love for '70s-style jazz fusion ala Weather Report and Chick Corea's Return to Forever is clear in "Just Play," his latest release. Pilo and a revolving group of musicians tackle an assemblage of standards ("Autumn Leaves," "Impressions") along with several originals by Pilo, and the result is an eclectic and compelling mix. Standouts include a cover of Jaco Pastorius' "Teen Town," Pilo's homage to one of the key compositions of the genre and the era. Pilo is crisp and forceful but never intrusive on the drums, and saxman Doug Webb offers his own innovative spin on the original Wayne Shorter solo. (This track takes on a particular poignancy now, just weeks after the death of Pastorius' Weather Report bandmate, keyboardist Joe Zawinul.) Miles Davis' "All Blues," meanwhile, gets a funky reworking that has to be heard to be believed. Pilo supercharges the tempo with shades of Cuban jazz, and keyboardist Mitchel Forman pulls out all the stops on (what else?) the Fender Rhodes electric piano. (What better to revive memories of '70s fusion than the sounds of a Fender Rhodes?) Forman starts subtly with block chords, but is soon letting loose with a series of rapid-fire arpeggios, just to keep pace with Pilo's beat. Indeed, it's a tribute to Pilo that Forman's work is such a trippy highlight here; unlike some other drummer-leaders, Pilo is happy to share the spotlight and complement, not overwhelm, the rest of the band."
- Jazz CD Review.Com
"Pilo is a pro drummer (Frankie Valli, Maynard Ferguson) whose solo jazz project features a group of adept musicians on his original themes (and choice covers). Pilo allows his Fender Rhodes player to shine on the mellow “Early Cynical Mystery.” His bassist and sax player groove with skill and feel on “Shades of Blue.” Pilo’s pounding drums take center stage on “Awkwardly Mobile.” This disc will please listeners who’ve got a taste for hard jazz and impressive musicianship."
- Los Angeles Music Connection Magazine (Oct 2007)
"Tight, yet fluent stick work, and a yen for selecting great tunes and accompanists. This just about sums up drummer Craig Pilo on his latest CD effort, Just Play. Moving well beyond tired arrangements and re-treaded licks, Pilo covers a few classic standards such as Autumn Leaves, All Blues and Teen Town, giving them novel readings. Craig’s pen is also in the spotlight on well-written pieces such as Early Cynical Mystery. His mastery of sundry styles and meters shines through and there’s chemistry galore with the likes of featured keyboardist, the stellar Mitchel Forman, as well as saxophonist Roman Dudak."
- John Stevenson EJazz News
"A highly dynamic jazz fusion atmosphere filled with positive energy. "Just Play" showcases the work of an experimented musician whose bold personality is evident throughout the album. There are many wonderful sequences of vigorous, colorful jamming not to mention the excellent bass and organ grooves that make the music float around. Among the highlights "Early Cynical Mystery" one of the originals, brings a breeze from the "Return to Forever" years and Coltrane's "Miles Mode" here cleverly arranged by Craig Pilo. An entertaining album of great clarity and power for fusion enthusiasts."
– Jazz World Quest
"I’m betting you’ll be happy with the playing Craig and the band lay down on this disc. Simply outstanding jazz, crisply recorded from a lengthy all-star cast. Appearing on the tracks I’m playing are Mitchel Forman and Ed Czach with some truly blistering Fender Rhodes work, Burt Samolis, Keith Hubacher, Jim King, Tom Kennedy and David Enos each on some equally blistering bass lines, Roman Dudok on sax, with Pilo keeping the rhythm locked and loaded and filled with particularly tasty cymbal work."
"Drummer Craig Pilo is kept busy via his concert tours with pop and rock icons Frankie Valli and Edgar Winter. Yet this jazz-fusion studio date signifies an insightful glimpse into his enviable chops and overall musicality. With an attractive blend of originals, jazz standards, and pieces by Trane and Freddie Hubbard, the drummer generates pop, zip and fluid movement throughout. Featuring veteran session artists such as keyboardist Mitchel Forman, bassist Tom Kennedy and others, the various lineups convey a tightly-organized and thoroughly, in-the-pocket chemistry.
Constructed upon largely, melodic pieces and groove-oriented rhythmic maneuvers, Forman’s Fender Rhodes piano work serves as the axis on several tracks. They execute a mid-tempo, Latin-jazz spin on “Autumn Leaves,” while projecting a contempo jazz outlook with saxophonist Roman Dudok’s appearance on various works. On Hubbard’s modern jazz classic “Red Clay,” the saxophonist judiciously improvises within the primary melody, firmed-up by Pilo’s solid and throttling backbeats.
Kennedy renders a literal reading of Jaco Pastorius’ “Teen Town,” as the trio’s interpretation of “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise, surfaces as a dreamy ballad, spiced-up with a distinct edge. No frills or revelations here! It’s more about a consortium of top-caliber musicians infusing their broad music vernaculars into a potpourri of jazz-tinged works that intimate a jubilant state-of-affairs. Everything seems to click rather naturally here."
– Glenn Astarita EJazz News
"Drummer Craig Pilo's new album, "Just Play," is filled with pretty ballads and funky jazz fusion tunes that remind of those days and of that music. Pilo assembled a great crew for the album: Mitchel Forman and Ed Czach on keyboards; Tom Kennedy, Jim King, David Enos, Keith Hubacher and Jonathan Pintoff on bass; Roman Dudok and Doug Webb on saxophone and Bryan Brock on bongos. Every one of the musicians is outstanding.
Not surprisingly, the album features "Teen Town," a track by the late great bassist Jaco Pastorius, a giant of fusion. But you'll also find some standards: "Autumn Leaves," "Softly as in the Morning Sunrise," Miles Davis' "All Blues," Freddie Hubbard's "Red Clay" and John Coltrane's "Impressions" and "Miles Mode." Those tunes have been covered too many times to count, but Pilo's funky fusion makes his covers sound fresh. The group also played three of Pilo's own songs and they're among the album's finest cuts."
- Carl Abernathy Jazz Journalist
"Craig's CD is a dynamic look at classic jazz tunes, mixed with his own well-crafted compositions."
- Mondo Blu Radio
"For all my Jazz lovers out there on the Internet, Craig Pilo is just what the doctor ordered. Craig, who is originally from Connecticut, is a graduate of the University of North Texas College of Music in 1995 with his Bachelors Degree in Music. One of his biggest accomplishments earlier on his career was when he tour in 1997 with famed trumpeter Maynard Ferguson. A part of Craig's success, according to Craig, has been contributed to some of his earlier private teachers. Between the times around 1998-2002, Craig continued to work passionately perfecting his craft. By the time 2002 rolled around, he landed a regular gig playing alone side with the legendary Pat Boone. More recently, Craig joined Frankie Valli on his touring band. Now comes 2007 and Craig Pilo is ready to show the music industry just what he is made of. I promise you this folks—when you listen to Craig's music—you will NOT be disappointed. Good stuff. Check out this fun interview that Craig took the time to do for the magazine recently."
- Juniors Cave
"Too often, a jazz CD opens with a cover of someone else’s work and the artist who has released the album relegates their own work to further down in the song list. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but when you are as good a composer and musician as Craig Pilo it is nice to see his new CD Just Play open with one of his own compositions the smooth “Early Cynical Mystery.” The song has an easygoing melody, great deep grooves and of course, the drummer Pilo supplies superb beats.
Particularly noticeable due to the quality of his playing is Mitch Forman whose excellence on the Fender Rhodes in and of itself makes the opening track worth listening to. I fell in love with Forman’s introduction to the second song on the album, “Autumn Leaves,” a tune that American lyricist Johnny Mercer translated into English from the original French composition “Les Feuilles Mortes,” authored by Joseph Kosma and Jacques Prévert. Pilo and Reuben Valtierra wrote new arrangements for “Autumn Leaves.”
The Los Angeles native has long been regarded as one of the music industry’s top drummers, having played with Maynard Ferguson, Player (“Baby Come Back”), Pat Boone, Billy Vera, Chris Montez, Deniece Williams, Edgar Winter, Frankie Valli and numerous other high profile artists. In fact, Pilo is appearing this week on the Jimmy Kimmel show with Frank Valli. Watch for him on the evening of September 27th.
In his liner notes, Pilo thanks the musicians who appear on Just Play. Particularly poignant is his comment, “The playing speaks for itself.” That it does! The solo by saxophonist Roman Dudok on the song “Shades Of Blue,” is outstanding. He adds depth and a moody sensibility to the track.
Freddie Hubbard’s “Red Clay,” has new arrangements penned by Pilo and features another superb sax man Doug Webb. There is an extended sax solo at the mid point of this 8:57 rhythmic journey.
When you listen to song after song of excellent grooves roll off of the Just Play disc, it is very easy to discern why two of the songs “Shades Of Blue,” and “Early Cynical Mystery,” have received nominations for the 2007 Los Angeles Music Awards, to be held in November. The songs are nominated in the jazz instrumental category.
I have not often heard a call and response between a drummer and a keyboardist but I liked what I listened to on another Craig Pilo original, “Awkwardly Mobile.” The funky exchange between Pilo and Ed Czach is fresh and imaginative.
Other highlights to listen for include Bryan Brock’s bongos on the cover of Miles Davis’ “All Blues.” Valtierra and Pilo have taken a great tune and made it even funkier with some new arrangements.
The CD Just Play closes out with a good rendition of John Coltrane’s “Miles Mode.” Pilo, Czach and Dudok are all at the top of their game, while bassist Keith Hubacher builds a strong foundation."
- Riveting Riffs September 2007
"A surprising debut recording from an up and coming drummer reached my desk in late 2007. Craig Pilo has released a new disc entitled Just Play, featuring his considerable talents on drums with an outstanding band of fellow musicians.
If you ask the drummer what inspired him to release a disc that largely recalls the early electric jazz recordings of the late 60s and 70s, Pilo will immediately respond that the source of his inspiration is comprised of some of the leading figures on the Jazz scene at that cataclysmic time. Joe Zawinul. Herbie Hancock.
Just Play features what Pilo refers to as "Fender Rhodes style raw playing" on very stimulating presentations of Red Clay and Teen Town as well as captivating originals such as Early Cynical Mystery that have gained acclaim for the Los Angeles based drummer.
The son of a drummer, the Connecticut born Craig Pilo graduated from the University of North Texas College of Music in 1995 with a Bachelors Degree in Music, which he cites the "Gold Star" of his educational process. Further studies with Dave Weckl reinforced his drum skills. In 1997 Pilo did the fall tour with famed trumpeter Maynard Ferguson to promote his One More Trip To Birdland CD. Pilo is also a much in demand drummer on the LA scene, working with local artists as well as TV and Film sessions.
Craig Pilo began playing regularly with Pat Boone in the Spring of 2002. He did several tours over the next few years and recorded for a few of Boone's CD's. In November of 2005, Craig joined "Rock N Roll Hall-of-Fame" singer Frankie Valli for his touring band. Craig continues touring with Frankie and will be with the band for an appearance later this June in Omaha.
Recently I caught up with Craig Pilo over the phone and talked with him about his debut CD as well as his successful career. You can hear the interview by clicking on the link to Last Call on KIOS. Recording Engineer: Mike Hansen.
- Chris Cooke host of Last Call on KIOS-FM.