Dino Saluzzi has made over a dozen albums under his own name, but the American jazz audience, if it knows him at all, thinks of him as a very special sideman. On recordings by Charlie Haden and Enrico Rava and, most notably, on Tomasz Stanko's From the Green Hill, Saluzzi's bandoneon is an exotic coloration, an uncommon, affecting mode of musical utterance, used sparingly but memorably. It leaves you wanting more.
More has just arrived. On his new ECM recording Responsorium, Saluzzi leads a trio with his son Jose on acoustic guitar and Palle Danielsson on bass. If contains 10 pieces by Belgian composer Myriam Alter played by a quintet with Saluzzi, clarinetist John Ruocco and a rhythm section of Kenny Werner, Greg Cohen and Joey Baron.
Often, intriguing sidemen do not wear well in the spotlight of a leadership role. But Saluzzi's fascination deepens with exposure. He is the world's foremost exponent of the bandoneon, a South American variant of the button accordion or concertina. His music comes out of the sweet, aching sadness of the tango nuevo but also touches on the counterpoints of European chamber jazz and the interactive risks of jazz. The wheezing, sighing strains of Saluzzi's instrument convey a poetic, poignant melancholy that is all his own.
Heard back-to-back, If feels like a lighter epilogue to Responsorium. Saluzzi's own recording is not only an immersion in the haunting expressiveness of his own instrumental voice but also a revelation of his breadth as a composer, presented by a spare, intimately intertwined ensemble. Myriam Alter's cultural roots are Judeo-Spanish. There is more than a tinge of Andalusian tango nuevo in her delicate, dignified musical designs. If feels lighter than Saluzzi's album, not because it is superficial, but because its supple meters are more regular, atmospheres are brighter, and the players' departures from form are more cautious. Here, too, Saluzzi's bandoneon is the most vivid presence, but the other instruments add fullness, especially the varied textures of Werner's piano.
Saluzzi's compositions on Responsorium are melodically rich, but their first impression of simplicity is deceptive. Pieces like "Monica" and "La Pequena Historia de...!" are multifaceted in structure. Through their wide-open harmonies and unexpected segues and breaks and rebirths of song and variations and returns, Saluzzi weaves his folk tales of the soul. Jose Saluzzi plays luminous counterlines, Palle Danielsson plays dark ones, and when the ensemble comes together it can dance with surprising light-footed quickness.
Myriam Alter's album also tells stories, but there are no dramatic events along the progress of her loosely connected 10-piece suite, from "Waking Up" and "Home" to "You Should Stay" and "Where You Belong". Thematic development happens in subtle shadings, as motives shift through the sonorities of three lead instruments similar in tonal range yet individual in signature.
If was recorded by Joe Ferla at Avatar Studio in New York. Responsorium was recorded by Jan Erik Kongshaug at Rainbow Studio in Oslo, Norway. Kongshaug's sound is superior in every respect-spaciousness, warmth, detail-but both recordings capture the clicking sounds that are apparently a side effect of the manipulation of the bandoneon's bellows and keys. These noises will require some accommodation on the part of the listener.
Dino Saluzzi plays mood music. There is nothing shallow about mood music when its revelation of mood is so resonant in its truth and humanity.