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01/26/12

Francesco Cafiso
Moody'n
Verve

The recordings of certain jazz musicians do not approximate the experience of hearing them live. In person, alto saxophonist Francesco Cafiso, who made his name as one of the most important child prodigies of the new jazz millennium, can intoxicate you. His pure, penetrating alto saxophone sound sweeps you up, and he sings vast extravagant songs that tie into elegant designs.

His records do not get there, but Moody’n is his best to date. Cafiso is now 22, and he has succeeded where so many child prodigies fail: He has grown. Moody’n is a complete album statement, with fresh, clean, tight voicings of jazz classics and intriguing original compositions. It is built on the dynamic tension between closely organized arrangements and Cafiso solos that are somehow both wild and concise.

The quartet here, with no drummer, feels fluid. Rosario Bonaccorso, one of Europe’s strongest bassists, is the energy center. Pianist Giovanni Mazzarino and trumpeter/flugelhornist Dino Rubino precisely execute their roles in sleek concepts of Charlie Parker and Benny Golson tunes (“Barbados,” “Whisper Not”). Most pieces work like Parker’s “Steeplechase”: Rubino’s solo sounds fast until a little kicking riff announces Cafiso, who arrives as if shot from a cannon. He flies, and then swoops back into the theme for the close.

The originals introduce new forms and procedures. The title track is a set of short bursts, flurries that erupt into one blindingly fast three-minute alto saxophone effusion. “Secret Ways of Inviolable Beauties” is so slow it barely moves, in a fervent whisper.

Cafiso has been criticized for his vintage repertoire and his stylistic conservatism. But he proves that bop is a living, unpredictable language. It must be, because he keeps you on the edge of your seat, eager for what will come next.

Originally published in January/February 2012
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