Italian pianist Pasquale Stafano is perhaps best known for the Nuevo Tango Ensemble which he co-founded in 1999 with bandoneonist Gianni Iorio, with whom he has also released a couple of fine duo albums, namely the tango-inspired Nocturno (Enja Records, 2017) and Mediterranean Tales (Enja Records, 2020). The centenary of Astor Piazzolla's birth might have seemed like an opportune moment for another tango project, but instead Stafano has launched a new trio, with double bassist Giorgio Vendola and drummer & percussionist Saverio Gerardi interpreting eight of the pianist's own compositions.
An album of contrasts, with shifts in tempi, mood and dynamics, both within and between songs, there are still common threads running through these eight originals. Stafano is a student of both classical music and jazz, and a little of the former colors his precise articulation and elegant melodies. The pianist also has a penchant for muscular, repeating motifs, none more so than on the energized opener, "Sparks," where several hooks form little stepping stones between improvised passages. Within the trio's tightly bound rhythmic framework there is a particularly close symmetry between Stafano and Vendola, with the pianist's signatures often mirrored in the bass, as on the title track and the lively "Night Market."
The legacy of the Esbjorn Svensson suggests itself on "Remembrance"as much for Gerardi's galloping brushes as for Stafano's melodicismand again on "Clocks," where a meaty bass ostinato launches the trio on a rhythmically bouncing course which acts as a springboard for the leader's fluid solo. In the main, however, Stafano's compositions carry a personal stamp, with the episodic "Countdown" a standout for its polar extremes of pace and the juxtaposition of electro-acoustic dynamics; the elegant, melancholy-tinged ballad "Three Days of Snow" is another gem. Gerardi's deft percussion colors "Mirror of Souls," a slower elegant number of subtle charms, featuring understated solos of lyrical note from Vendola and Stafano.
Bowed bass and a rumbling wave of piano and drums announce "The Roller Coaster," which features, aptly enough, Stafano's most uninhibited soloing of the set. Even in the heat of musical passion, however, the pianist always sounds in complete control of his course. Perhaps a little more open-ended exploration from the trio might have made for a more thrilling ride, but this composition, like the album as a whole, still serves up plenty of delights.
With Sparks there is certainly the promise of more incendiary music making still to come from Stafano's impressive new trio.
Sparks; Three Days Snow; Night Market; Remembrance; Countdown; Mirror of Soul; Clocks; The Roller Coaster.
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