Peppe Merolla: Stick With Me (2010)
Although Stick With Me is a simple, straight ahead album, it is fresh and full of wonderful twists and turns. The very first track says, "expect the unexpected," when "Naples," opens with a splash of cymbals, the rolling thunder of mallets on tympanis and Steve Turre calling plaintively on his trademark shells, and then it's a rollicking Afro-Cuban rhythm recalling the Neapolitan ethos. That is, until the bridge arrives with Turre bleating and grunting on trombone to hook up the main body of the chart with the swerving head. From then on and chart to chart it is one wild ride with Merolla and his cooking ensemble.
Merolla has a wonderful feel for Latin American rhythms. Evidence of this can be heard on the somewhat adventurous "Marbella," a track where Turre also excels on trombone as does Jim Rotondi on trumpet. John Farnsworth, who contributes much of the music on this album, appears to be a much matured composer here. "A Cry for Understanding" is a beautiful chart that recalls something John Coltrane would have written in the heyday of his famous quartet and offers an opportunity for trumpet and Farnsworth's saxophone to shine through as well. Turre, following in the afterburn of the tenor saxophone also returns for a few hot choruses.
Rotondi's arrangement of Willie Nelson's "Crazy" is truly moving and another apt vehicle for Turre to almost vocalize his solo through the mute. His expression and phrasing is unmatched here, especially in the dying notes of each phrase and each line. Mike LeDonne also plays a dazzling solo as he flies up and down the keyboard, before handing the song back to Turre who simply continues where he left off. The song dallies just that much for it to become a molten ballad on which the ensemble hangs tight as the tension is built right until the end.
Rotondi's playing is also superlative throughout, especially on tracks such as "Mozzin,'" where he owns the upper register of his blazing horn. The fire that he lights remains unquenched throughout the chart. His exchanges with Turre are also one of a kind, especially in the sections where they "preach" together. Rotondi's other vehicle is "One for Bud," a bebop homage to the late pianist, Bud Powell. On this chart he showswith clear, bell-like tone and dazzling articulationwhy he has come to be one of the most prized trumpeters on the New York circuit.
With Stick With Me Peppe Merolla now has a New York jazz album to match the wonderful record he made a decade ago (Peppe Merolla and Jazz Mediterraneo, (Pepporijazz Productions, 2001)) which fused raw jazzy swagger with soulful Italian fare. Add to that his Italian vocal album (Sogno Italiano, (Pepporijazz Productions, 2001)) and suddenly Merolla becomes an artist with so much going for him it is only a matter of time before he becomes a target for a major label and a big swing across the continents.
Track Listing: Naples; Ferris Wheel; Junior; Marbella; A Cry For Understanding; Crazy; Mozzin'; Princess of the Mountain; One For Bud.
Personnel: Peppe Merolla: drums, percussion; Steve Turre: trombone, shells; Jim Rotondi: trumpet, flugelhorn; John Farnsworth: tenor saxophone; Mike LeDonne: piano; Lee Smith: bass.
Record Label: Self Produced