Hailing from the Mediterranean fishing town of Mazara, Italy, guitarist/violinist and composer Michele Pugielese-Ramo has been fishing the jazz waters of New York and Detroit for the last twenty-six years. Having recorded countless albums as leader during that time, his most recent endeavor, A Cigar & A Scotch, captures a gifted musician and his World Jazz Orchestra in a live setting that must have been exciting to experience in person. Whether performing on the smaller higher-pitched Requinto guitar, the 8-string guitar or the violin, this multi-instrumentalist performs like a virtuoso. The eight original compositions are also a testament to his skills as a writer for the music is varied touching on traditional jazz, Afro-Cuban rhythms, Brazilian samba and bossa as well as ballads.
Fronting a big band of Detroit's finest players, Ramo and crew have regularly performed live at Jenuwine Cigar & Jazz Lounge in Sterling Heights, MI, from which the music here is drawn; actually a compilation of various recording dates. The live feed tend to capture clear audience interaction during a performance but, such is the nature of a live show which some may argue, actually provides a sense of realism while enhancing the listening pleasure. The leader's talents are on display right from the opening title track as he picks the strings of the guitar and later takes on the violin while on the following "A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit of That" he plays the Requinto with very nice accompaniment from clarinetist Andrew Bishop and bassist Ralphe Armstrong.
The first soft spot on the disc is reserved for the beautiful "Autumn Rain" where the guitarist withdraws playing more of a background role leaving center stage for a gorgeous alto saxophone solo lead from Russ Miller, clearly a highlight of the disc. On the spicy and swinging "Far Away From Home," vibraphonist Cary Kocher and drummer Bill Cairo's solo are the main feature of the tune. Perhaps the most ambitious track of the set stretching to just over fourteen-minutes in length, is the wonderful "Sicily" featuring vocalist Heidi Hepler gently supported by Bishop's humbling soprano saxophone solo and Ramo's eight-string "Mostro" guitar.
Winding down the music, included here is a delicious duet with trumpeter Johnny Trudell on the Flugelhorn and the leader once again on the Mostro guitar on the reflective "Reflections" played with emotion and to the heart. The Latin flavor of the set emerges on "Bugambilia" with a little help from percussionist Miguel Gutierrez and Vincent Chandler's peppery trombone, as Ramo delivers some of his best riffs on the guitar.
If one likes a smoke and a drink along with their jazz, A Cigar & A Scotch will be more than a tasteful musical statement to sample as Michele Ramo and his World Jazz Orchestra put on quite an enchanting performance. From the traditional side of jazz to the Brazilian genre, this is music for the straight ahead mature jazz lover, well done!
A Cigar & A Scotch; A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit of That; Autumn Rain; Far Away From Home; Sicily; Reflections; Bugambilia; A Cigar & A Scotch.
Michele Ramo: violin, 8-string guitar, requinto; Heidi Hepler: vocals (5); Danny Patrona: piano; Johnny Trudell: flugelhorn; Walter White: trumpet, flugelhorn; Andrew Bishop: clarinet, soprano saxophone; Russ Miller: alto saxophone; Vincent Chandler: trombone; Cary Kocher: vibraphone; Ralphe Armstrong: bass; Ray Tini: bass (1, 3, 4); Andrew Lloyd: bass (7, 8); Miguel Gutierrez: drums, percussion; (7, 8); Bill Cairo: drums (1, 4); Jim Ryan: drums (3); Pete Siers: drums (2, 5).