Francesco Cataldo: Spaces
Alfa Music

A thoroughly satisfying collection of contemporary jazz quintet playing, Spaces showcases the composing, arranging, and playing talents of Italian guitarist Francesco Cataldo. Recorded in New York in September 2012, the seventy-five-minute release augments the leader with a top-of-the-line group of players, specifically alto saxophonist David Binney, pianist Salvatore Bonafede, double bassist Scott Colley, and drummer Clarence Penn; as an added treat, cellist Erik Friedlander sits in on one of the thirteen tracks. Though the album was laid down in the US, a strong evocation of Cataldo's homeland runs through much of it, literally so in track titles that reference Italian cities (“Sunrise in Rome,” “Perugia,” “Siracusa,” “Ortigia”) but also in the wistful feel that often emerges in the guitarist's pieces. At such moments, the music exudes a warmth and breeziness that makes the idea of venturing overseas to visit the country an appealing proposition indeed.

Arguably the album's prettiest composition and certainly one of its most evocative, “Algerian Waltz” is graced with a gently soaring and at times sweetly melancholic melodic line that Binney and Cataldo voice with conviction and feeling. The musicians guide the more aggressive “Siracusa” through its many changes with assurance, Penn impressing with the free-styled abandon of his playing, while “Ortigia” lies somewhere between the two, lyrical in its melodic presentation yet muscular when it needs to be.

An effective blend of ballads and uptempo pieces, Spaces is most definitely an ensemble recording, but Cataldo's distinctive guitar work stands out. Without being raw, his playing possesses a sharp and incisive edge that gives the music's otherwise acoustic presentation extra bite, and to his credit, his playing doesn't overly reflect the influence of other guitarists; no one, in other words, will come away from the recording branding him a Metheny, Holdsworth, or Scofield clone, even if traces of the latter are occasionally audible (e.g., his solo spot in “Tourist in My Town”). Throughout the recording, Binney shows himself to be an effective partner in bringing a similar level of brio to the project. Cataldo and Binney often trade solos, but just as often pair up to voice themes and even indulge in some duel-like swordplay.

Bonafede's elegant playing complements the others, as does the constantly responsive invention provided by Colley and Penn. All of the musicians acquit themselves admirably, and Cataldo's a genial host in providing ample solo opportunities for his guests to shine, something never more evident than during “Vito (Intro), Raccontami” (whose sentimental second part melodically echoes Chaplin's “Smile”) when he cedes the greater share of the spotlight to Friedlander. Still, in all likelihood it's the leader's sensitively attuned playing you'll remember most, and the electric and baritone turns he takes on “Sunrise in Rome” and the intimate solo setting “Your Silence,” respectively, speak highly on behalf of his musicianship.

October 2015