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Joey Calderazzo: Going Home

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Joey Calderazzo has carved out a sneaky-good career for himself. Probably best known for replacing Kenny Kirkland in the piano chair of the Branford Marsalis Quartet, he has released nine discs as a leader over the past 24 years. Although they routinely garner plaudits, he’s not the type of highly conceptual stylist who registers in the polls. His art is mostly formulated by the breadth and precision of his craft.

Going Home piques the intellect and challenges that breadth and precision with open-ended tunes that encourage improvisation. (Seven out of the nine cuts are Calderazzo originals.) He operates in a classic piano-trio format with bassist Orlando le Fleming and drummer Adam Cruz, and it’s a pleasure to hear their tentative forays on foundational riffs and barebones themes gradually quicken into more detailed textures and confident interactions. The slow-boiling intensity that eventually enlivens “Manifold” and “Legend” is a particular highlight.

Calderazzo has absorbed the contemporary masters of his instrument in a manner that informs rather than sacrifices his own identity. You hear the prowling gallop of McCoy Tyner, the playful hopscotch of Chick Corea and the ascending vamps of Herbie Hancock all churning within the mix of his improvisations. The Crescent City jazz-funk of “One Way” (previously heard on Calderazzo’s 2011 album of duets with Branford Marsalis, Songs of Mirth and Melancholy) feels like a delightful hybrid of Hancock and Dr. John. The better of the disc’s two standards, “Stars Fell on Alabama,” is a perfectly rendered soul-blues tearjerker that variously recalls Ray Charles and Hank Jones.

Calderazzo invokes all these linkages without any sense of pastiche or indebtedness, creating a personal style that yields enhanced professionalism and reduced notoriety. There are no guest stars except for Marsalis blowing plush tenor on the elegantly subdued “I Never Knew.” The rich trio interplay that characterizes most of the record is overshadowed by Calderazzo’s muscular virtuosity on the final two numbers, “Mike’s Song” (a tribute to his early employer Michael Brecker) and the emotionally evocative title track, performed solo, that closes the collection. It’s a polished coda for a sneaky-good record.

Listen to or download this album at iTunes.

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