|“To me, Almas Antiguas reflects a romantic idea of reconnecting with things, or people, or places from another life, not necessarily in a rational way,” Marco Pignataro says of the title of his second album, which translates idiomatically to English as “old souls.” A son of Bologna, Italy who moved to the New World in 1991, Pignataro presents 11 compositions or arrangements that tell a “story of love” in notes and tones, signifying on elements of his Italian (paternal) and Puerto Rican (maternal) bloodlines with a perspective shaped by long experience constructing musical narrative from the codes of hardcore jazz in the U.S. context.
In the process, Pignataro demonstrates his mastery of the Pan-American and Pan-Mediterranean tributaries of jazz expression, telling his stories with a spirit of freedom that embraces the here-and-now, as encapsulated by Wayne Shorter’s mantric epigram, “the past is the flashlight for the future.” As he puts it, “This CD is about roots from the Mediterranean, and how jazz can become this lens that absorbs all these different colors, through which you can create a new sound and bring out your cultural identity.”
Melodyand a desire to morph his metal instrument into an analogue to the human voiceare Pignataro’s unifying threads. “I’d been listening to a lot of Latin American and Neapolitan singers while I was envisioning this CD,” he says. “When they are very good, they make the listener resonate to the sound of the voice. It seems to me that modern jazz has lost something about telling a story and evoking certain images. Here, I want to reconnect with the idea of delivering the music from a vocal viewpoint.”
Consider, as an example, the romantic, aria-like refrain Pignataro conjures for title track Almas Antiguas, a nuevo bolero on which the leader interweaves impassioned tenor saxophone variations with harmonic colors postulated by pianist Alan Pasqua, himself of Italian descent, and rhythmic flow established by bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Adam Cruz, both Nuyoricans, who, as Pignataro puts it, “completely get the bolero’s taste and the colors but make it breathe and feel very open.”
Pignataro introduces the album-opening Panarea, a North African and Flamenco-inflected evocation of that Sicilian island, with a keening, incantatory soprano saxophone meditation, delivered with a tone not unlike the ancient three-pipe Sardinian launeddas. After Pasqua’s dance through the changes, Calabria-descended Boston tenor saxophone icon George Garzone’s voice-like declamation, and Pignataro’s own soaring soprano statement, Cruz sums up with a remarkable solo, chock-a-block with metric and timbral ideas drawn from North African and Latin drum cultures.
Then consider the layered voices of vendors hawking their products at a Naples market that carry us into the world of Voce e’ Notte, a turn-of-the-20th-century Neapolitan song that Pignataro’s grandfather sang. “This song became popular during the 1930s, from a beautiful version by the Neapolitan singer Roberto Murolo, who played guitar and imparted a Spanish influence,” Pignataro says. “So I went again with a Mediterranean feelreharmonized it and asked George to play the second melody. The lyrics are controversial for the timethey talk about adultery from the viewpoint of the lover, who is by himself late at night, thinking about the woman he loves sleeping with her husband.”
On the expansive Otranto, Pignataro presents deja vu impressions of that seaside city in Puglia, situated 450 kilometers east of Naples, where in 2010 he played a concert while touring with Gomez, a close friend and associate since the latter half of the aughts, when Pignataro brought him to the Conservatory of Music of Puerto Rico, where he directed the Department of Jazz and Caribbean Music. (In 2009, Pignataro moved to much colder Boston to assume his current role as Managing Director & Faculty for the Berklee Global Jazz Institute at Berklee College of Music).
“I felt a strong, nostalgic emotion, like I’d already been there in some other life,” Pignataro says. He evokes those feelings in his impassioned, declamatory rendering of the melody in the stately first movement, then channels the bustle and excitement of Otranto’s streets in summer with a flamenco-like theme that provokes an explosive soprano saxophone-drums improvised conversation on which each note rings true.
The “Latin” section of Almas Antiguas opens with Pignataro’s arrangement of the Argentine standard Alfonsina y El Mar that shifts the meter between 3/4 and 7/4, imparting a “bouncing, lyrical” flavor to his tenor saxophone ruminations, delivered with a huge, burnished tone. His pellucid soprano saxophone reading of the lovely Mallorcan lullaby Vou, Veri, Vouin conjunction with Pasqua’s folklorically-inspired colorsis all tenderness. It prefaces Xalapa, a soulful, relaxed evocation of the highlands capital city of the state of Veracruz in Mexico, which Pignataro has visited on numerous occasions.
He ventures into searing, almost atonal lamentation on Letter To My Son, a soprano saxophone-piano duo, then evokesagain on sopranothe bittersweet connotation of Baden Powell’s Samba Em Preludio, whose lyrics comprise a dialogue between a man and a woman, in love, but apart and unfulfilled. He returns to tenor sax for Calle Mayaguez, a kinetic quasi-bomba celebrating the street in Puerto Rico where, during childhood, Pignataro visited his maternal grandparents every summer, and for the album-concluding Song For Lucy, a poetic portrayal of his wife’s elegance and grace.
Throughout the proceedings, Pignataro’s bandmates, each a virtuoso, playing as a unit for the first time, feed the fire with a mutual intuition and simpatico that can’t be overstated. “They’ve been playing together in my head for a while,” Pignataro says. “Eddie is my mentor, and a first-call for anything I do. Alan has visited the Berklee Global Jazz Institute [BGJI] once a semester for the last five years, and hearing his understanding of melody and space convinced me that nobody could better suit my idea for this album. I heard Alan play duo with Adam at a BGJI event last year, and their lyricism set off a light bulb in my head that, with Eddie, they would form the perfect rhythm section. I play a lot with George; we’re very different players, but we both come from Stan Getz, and he says that the repertoire I play brings this ethnic thing out of him, like an opera tenor.”
“From the first song we recorded in the studio, everyone felt super-connected, like a small community of friends, not a situation where you hire big names and they come to do the session. I don’t know if my music changes anything, but I feel that it’s a personal voice of my own story as a musician, which I am very proud of.”
Pignataro should be proud of executing such a remarkably cohesive, artistic recital, devoted to vivid melodies and beauty, in which all members illuminate the roiling emotions and romantic sensibility that underpin the songs. It will repay repeated listenings.
All arrangements by: Marco Pignataro. Recorded on: Nov. 17 -18, 2016 at PBS Studio. Westwood, MA. Recording Engineer and Mastering by: Peter Kontrimas. Photography: Lucy Pignataro. Art direction and package design: Jack Frisch. Executive Producer: Joachim “Jochen” Becker.
Publishing: SIAE (1); C Minor Music Obo Jose Carreras Music Pub (2); Marco Pignataro Publishing - BMI (3, 4, 6 8, 10, 11); WB Music Corp. Obo Editorial Lagos (4); Universal Music Mgb Songs Obo Universal Music Pub Mgb Spain (9).
Marco Pignataro plays D’Addario reeds, Mauriat tenor saxophones and Lupifaro Soprano Saxophones.
This recording was made possible partially by a Berklee College of Music Chair Recording Grant.