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Sergio Salvatore: Dark Sand

Andrew Lienhard By

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Sergio Salvatore first appeared on the national jazz scene in 1992 as an 11 year-old prodigy, recording for GRP records. Paired with stars of the day including Michael Brecker, Chick Corea and Gary Burton, his debut bristled with the stellar musicianship and polish one would expect from the Grusin-Rosen label. In a surprising turn however, Salvatore stopped recording after only a few albums. The well-rounded pianist wanted to focus on getting his undergraduate degree in Computer Science, despite being a highly regarded, in-demand jazz artist.

In the years that followed, he not only achieved his scholastic ambitions, he embarked on software development career that led to his current position as a VP and Software Architect for Sony BMG in New York City. Yet while working long hours in high pressure, high profile software positions, Salvatore managed to maintain an ongoing gig schedule, squeezing in shows with the likes of Gary Burton, Billy Drewes, and various incarnations of his own group.

Dark Sand puts an end to his decade-long recording hiatus. Unlike previous outings, it lacks lavish production and star power. Dark Sand is an intimate acoustic duo recording with New York City vibraphonist Christos Rafalides. Rafalides, while not a familiar name, is a highly regarded jazz artist who serves on the faculty at The New School and frequently performs with both the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and the Mingus Big Band.

The good news is that Dark Sand may very well be one of the finest piano-vibraphone albums to emerge in years. Chordal instrument duets, in particular, require a sophisticated balance of textures and dynamics otherwise they can easily slip into muddy terrain. Salvatore and Rafalides avoid such pitfalls with athletic precision and complete musical unity. The results are often spectacular.

Highpoints, of which there are many, include "Suite Together," a two-part work written by Salvatore's father Luciano. "Part I" begins with a stately, Keith Jarrett-ish piano intro that evolves into a beautiful melody highlighted by an assertive Rafalides. Salvatore's dazzling closing salvo on "Part II" is even more impressive, considering the intricate left-hand bass line he unwaveringly maintains throughout.

Salvatore and Rafalides have a natural rhythmic affinity for one another, a quality that keeps the performances comfortable and always pulsing forward. Most of these compositions are framed around positive, happy melodic material as well. Or, put another way, despite the title, "Dark Sand" avoids any hint of abstract melancholy. For example, the opening title track comes out blazing and bouncy with a McCoy Tyner-ish punch and a scorching solo by Rafalides. The upbeat mood is maintained throughout the middle section of the session with "Days of Silence" and "Second Nature, only to find pyrotechnic contrast on "Yasemi," with its Corea-like flourishes on the melody. The duo caps off the recording with "Fly Me To The Moon," built around a slow, funk groove. It's a suitable epilogue for the otherwise energetic session.

[Note: Dark Sand is currently only available as a digital download. The physical CD will be out in April, 2009]

Track Listing: Dark Sand; Nostalgia in Times Square; Suite Together (Part I); Suite Together (Part II); Spring Song; Which Way Did She Go?; Days of Silence; Second Nature; Yasemi; Fly Me To The Moon.

Personnel: Sergio Salvatore: piano; Christos Rafalides: vibes.

Title: Dark Sand | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Travelers Road Music


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