In 2011 and 2012 Dave Pietro spent three weeks as an artist-in-residence at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. He is a native New Englander and current New Yorker. Iowa was new to him: the corn fields to the horizon; the small plain towns where time had stopped; the welcoming people. He loved it. So he wrote this suite about it.
Pietro is a well-established reed player who has worked in the best orchestras (Maria Schneider, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Ryan Truesdell, Darcy James Argue). That he is also an accomplished composer-arranger might surprise people. His charts for quintet, with all their counterpoint lines and independent parts, achieve unusual fullness. In his carefully assembled designs, themes keep reappearing within rich blends.
His creative process is equal parts intellect and emotion. The melodies of “The Sanctuary” and “Heartland” are lasting memories preserved as music. “Sunrise on the Muscatine Highway” portrays anticipation. Gary Versace’s piano is all glittering hints, and Pietro’s soprano saxophone lines gather like breaking light. When Pietro’s meticulous forms open for soloists, the responses by Versace, trumpeter Alex Sipiagin and bassist Johannes Weidenmueller offer deep personal reflections on Pietro’s experience. As for Pietro, New Road is a breakout. He is a veteran but has never before displayed the full range of his strengths as composer, arranger, leader and soloist. On four reed instruments (alto and soprano saxophones, flute, clarinet), he achieves four sounds of rarefied purity, and he improvises in fresh, concise, complete ideas.
A personal note of full disclosure: I was a graduate student at the University of Iowa. I know the imagery that inspired “Sleep Prairie, Sleep.” The quietly majestic melody came to Pietro while he was driving through Iowa farmlands in winter. I recognize that austerity, but until now I never understood how beautiful those lonely prairies are.