Salvatore Cirillo – Looking for Listeners (2012)

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Pianist Salvatore Cirillo, appearing in both trio and vocalist-fronted quartet formats here, shows off a stirring range – moving from crinkly bop, to fiery blues then back to a deeply involving impressionism.

The results, which he self-produced for VISION: editorial S.r.l., are revealed as a tour-de-force achievement for Cirillo, who’s following up his first album as a leader, 2009’s Unpretentious. (The Italian pianist has also done a pair of soundtracks over the last two years.) Looking for Listeners has a little something for every lover of jazz, either instrumental or vocal, up or down tempo.

“Black Hats” begins things in a persistent groove courtesy of bassist Aldo Vigorito, and never abates. Amid that driving pace, Cirillo enters with a series of furiously inventive runs. Together, they tangle and embrace, playing with forceful conviction until the final thrilling clatter. But there’s more than hard-swinging to hear from Cirillo, a graduate of the Italian Conservatory in piano, jazz arrangement, composition and harpsichord. He shows remarkable restraint on the following track, opening with a lightly swinging effervescence on “A Spring Day” – even as vocalist Adele Capacchione enters. Scatting more than singing, she skips alongside, her wordless soloing the very sound of a sunny day.

The rubbery groove of “I Can’t Take it Anymore” gives the song the feel of a classic Blue Note side, and Cirillo once again rises to the occasion – switching to a percussive, deep-fried approach at the keys. Working this time without Capacchione, the pianist then spars more directly with Vigorito during the solo passages, even as drummer Massimo Manzi kicks up a pleasant racket. Vibrant and bluesy, “I Can’t Take It Anymore” might be one of the album’s biggest surprises – a boisterous, late-night delight.

“Circle” begins next with a thrumming sense of expectation, before settling into a boppish tumble of notes during the lengthy duet between Cirillo and Capacchione – whose swooping flourishes take on the fizzy intelligence of vocalese, so horn like and smartly constructed are her scats.

“Mr. D.H.” is both fleet, and somewhat tense – making for a very compelling sequence of counterpoints. Working inside, and then slightly outside, Cirillo pushes hard against the active retorts of his fellow trio members. The song, which never quite uncoils, has this piercing sense of drama – and it couldn’t be more different than the subsequent “I Remember This,” a moment of undiluted trio romanticism. Taken together, they do as much as any other song sequence to illustrate the stirring imaginative range of this group. Vigorito fashions a twilight poignancy, even as Cirillo initially explores a quieter, more personal series of thoughts. When “I Remember This” eventually settles into a lightly swinging tempo, Cirillo and Vigorito remain in the fore, singing now more than whispering, but still the very portrait of blissful restraint. If “I Can’t Take It Anymore” brought us back to Bobby Timmons, this is Bill Evans, deep into Sunday at the Village Vanguard.

“About Fly” descends then into a dimly lit portent, as Vigorito helps create an intriguing cloud cover. Capacchione, this time, begins as part of the rhythmic whisperings – adding trundling bass notes as Cirillo slowly emerges from the darkness. Then Capacchione and Cirillo suddenly come awake, as if the dawn broke. Together, they create a memorably inviting buoyance, trading lines like barely controlled utterances of joy.

Cirillo and Co. finish Looking for Listeners with the hard-grooving “I Can’t Believe It,” a straight-forward tune, but one sustained with a steady warmth. Appearing a final time without Capacchione, the group opens up into a series of emotive solos, sending listeners on their way with the perfect digestif: It’s uncluttered, full of approachable musical ideas, and points the way toward still more future explorations.

Salvatore Cirillo shouldn’t be looking for listeners much longer.

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