O Sole Mio!
, the latest in a series of splendid albums by Canadian-bred saxophonist/entrepreneur Cory Weeds
, is subtitled "Music from the Motherland" in other words, Italy, which, presumably, is Woods' ancestral home. Whatever the case, Woods' blue-chip quintet focuses for the most part on music born in Italy or written by Italian-Americans including Henry Mancini
, Nino Rota
, Pat Martino
, Chick Corea
and Dodo Marmarosa
. To allay any doubt that all would go well, Weeds invited the superlative tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander
to share the front line and recruited Alexander's long-time rhythm sectionorganist Mike LeDonne
, guitarist Peter Bernstein
, drummer Joe Farnsworth
to lend its usual unflagging support.
The result is a session that swings, as Italians might say, with gusto, and whose flawsif indeed there are anyare minuscule. Technically, everyone in the ensemble is impeccabile,
and Weeds and Alexander have something else molto importante
in common: neither needs to scream to make his voice heard. They simply design one solo magnifico
after another, then hand off to Bernstein or LeDonne for more engaging monologos.
The title song and opener, straight from Napoli, lends itself quite well to the rhythmic jazz idiom, and is as sunny as its name suggests, with solos to match by Weeds, Alexander, Bernstein and LeDonne. Mancini's theme from the TV series "Mr. Lucky" is next, followed by Rota's memorable theme ("Speak Softly Love") from the award-winning film The Godfather,
each one taken at a slightly accelerated pace that serves it well.
That sets the stage for the album's first tempestuous burner, Martino's rapid-fire "On the Stairs," whose boppish melody and emphatic tempo call to mind the legendary Jazz Messengers. Corea's eloquent, toe-tapping "Chick's Tune" is sandwiched between two more tesoros
from Italy, the lovely "Estate" (Summer) and genial "Torna a Surriento" (Come Back to Sorrento). No session, Italian or otherwise, would be complete without a blues, and Marmarosa answers the call with another highlight, the smooth and seductive "Moody Blues," which presages the groovy finale, bassist Paul Chambers
' "Caprice di Camere" (Whims of Chambers), whose Italian provenance is dubious but whose charm is unequivocal.
Weeds has played tenoradmirablyon other albums, but he's even more persuasive on alto, dueling happily with Alexander while showing enough stylistic contrast to keep things interesting. Bernstein and LeDonne clearly don't hurt the cause, nor does Farnsworth, a timekeeper who weathers the rhythmic currents without making any troublesome waves. As small-group albums are graded, O Sole Mio!
deserves serious thought for inclusion on anyone's list of the year's top ten.
O Sole Mio; Mr. Lucky; Speak Softly Love ( Theme From The Godfather); On The Stairs; Estate;
Chick's Tune; Torna A Surriento; Moody Blues; Capricci Di Camere (Whims Of Chambers)