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Francesco Cafiso Quartet: Angelica

Dan McClenaghan By

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Angelica claims a spot as a superior quartet set—alto saxophone and a rhythm section—right at the very beginning, not with the Duke Ellington-penned title tune, but with a Billy Strayhorn gem, "A Flower is a Lovesome Thing." Italian saxophonist and jazz prodigy, Francesco Cafiso—just nineteen years old at the time this music was laid down—ignores the "never open with a ballad advice," proving you can't always let conventional wisdom twist your arm. It's a wonderful, tender exploration of the familiar tune, with the rhythm team shimmering, floating around Cafiso's deliberate and reverent treatment of the melody.

"Angelica," the other Ellington Songbook tune here, is done with a carefree panache, bubbling, Latin-style, behind the leader, who injects a bit a Cotton Club growl into his tone.

Cafiso wrote four of the songs in the set. The highlight of these is "Scent of Sicily," a wistful, abstract tune with a floating feeling. Cafiso's tone is sharp and tangy in front of a spare and subtlety-nuanced accompaniment. "December 26," another Cafiso-penned tune, showcases pianist Aaron Parks' light keyboard touch on a short but gorgeous solo leading into some splashing-of-bright-colors accompaniment to Cafiso's high-energy blowing of the serpentine melody.

Horace Silver's "Peace" explores tranquil beauty at a leisurely pace, featuring, again, Parks in another concisely laid-back solo spot. Sonny Rollins' "Why Don't I," with its shuffling tempo features Cafiso in a trio mode, backed by bassist Ben Street and Adam Cruz, sounding very free in a mid-sixties Rollins-esque way, blowing with a cool, blue-flame fire.

Cafiso closes the set out with the ruminative Nello Toscano tune, "Winter Sky." The saxophonist and the band bask in the tune's pensive mood, wrapping things up with three and a half minutes of unalloyed beauty.

Angelica is a fine introduction to a rising saxophone star.

Track Listing: A Flower is a Lovesome Thing; King Arthur; Angelica; December 26; Peace; Scent of Sicily; Waiting For; Why Don't I; Winter Sky.

Personnel: Francesco Cafiso: alto saxophone; Adam Cruz: drums; Aaron Parks: piano; Ben Street: bass.

Title: Angelica | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: CAM Jazz

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