In 2011, New York City-based saxophonist Dave Pietro was invited to spend three weeks as artist-in-residence at the University of Iowa. While there, he worked with young musicians in school programs across the state. It proved to be a rewarding commission for the native New Englander who was so enheartened that he chose to recreate the experience musically on his seventh album as leader, New Road: Iowa Memoirs.
The journey begins quietly with Pietro's impression of "Sunrise on the Muscatine Highway," on which his alto saxophone and Alex Sipiagin's trumpet retrace the exquisite scene in bold strokes while pianist Gary Versace, bassist Johannes Weidenmueller, drummer Jonathan Blake and percussionist Rogerio Boccato sketch in the background before Versace steps forward with an exquisite design of his own. The serenity continues on the leisurely "Sleep Prairie, Sleep" before the group adopts a busier stance on "It's a Half-Decent Muffin," underlined by Sipiagin's nimble trumpet and Blake's assertive drums.
Restfulness returns on "The Sanctuary," which in this case isn't a place of worship but a local pub. Weidenmueller is first to be served, followed by Pietro whose alto solo is earnest and well-drawn. The sunny "Heartland," introduced by Versace's eloquent piano, was inspired, Pietro writes, by "all the wonderful people [he] met during [his] three-week residency and how welcome and at home" they made him feel. Sipiagin is impressive here, as is Pietro, again on alto, while Blake adds a muscular exclamation mark. Having traversed the state, the only remaining ingredient is a graphic two-part "TRavel Guide," on which Pietro uses soprano sax, flute and clarinet to help lead the way. The tempos, as elsewhere, are explicitly moderate but no less agreeable, and the quintet (sextet on "Sunrise," "Heartland" and Part 1 of "TRavel Guide") dispatches them with deftness and ardor.
As a series of tone poems, Pietro's themes (he wrote and arranged everything) work well. On the other hand, while beauty abounds, a touch more heat would have been welcome. In sum, an admirable showcase for the ensemble, which endorses Pietro's vision and endues it with spirit.
Sunrise On The Muscatine Highway; Sleep Prairie, Sleep; It's A Half-Decent Muffin; The Sanctuary; Heartland; TRavel Guide - Part 1; TRavel Guide - Part 2.
Dave Pietro: soprano saxophone, alto saxophone; flute; clarinet; Alex Sipiagin: trumpet, flugelhorn; Gary Versace: piano; Johannes Weidenmueller: bass; Johnathan Blake: drums; Rogerio Bocatto: percussion (1, 5, 6).
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