Francesco Cafiso

Concerto for Michel Petrucciani

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After the young alto saxophonist Francesco Cafiso stunned the audience at the 2002 Umbria Jazz Festival with his surprising chops during a duo set with seasoned pianist Franco D'Andrea, hopes among jazz fans have remained high. They will not be disappointed with this two-CD tribute to the late French pianist Michel Petrucciani, recorded in concert in early 2004, not long after Cafiso amazed audiences during the IAJE Conference in the late evenings. Pianist Riccardo Arrighini, a veteran of European jazz festivals whose star is also rising, anchors the strong rhythm section, which also features bassist Amedeo Ronga and drummer Stefano Rapicavoli. Petrucciani's music is best known from his own recordings, though Cafiso puts his own touch on them while proving why these works should be more widely known. Cafiso's emotional yet very mature solo in the bossa nova "Why" is overwhelming. He dances over the brisk rhythm of the Latin-flavored "Our Tune." While it is almost impossible to conceive of a teenager playing a powerful ballad with such restraint as Cafiso does on "Hidden Joy," the young leader manages to do exactly that. Arrighini's elegant solo introduces "Brazilian Like," another ballad cast in a modified bossa nova setting. The chemistry of the quartet reaches its zenith in their performance of the up-tempo "Montelimar," where Cafiso can't resist playfully detouring into a quote from "Take the A Train," along with snatches of some other jazz standards. The concert wraps up with two standards. First, the quartet takes a powerful dash through "Cherokee" (where the influence of Phil Woods and Charlie Parker become apparent). The mesmerizing encore kicks off with Cafiso playing a medley of favorites (starting with "Lullaby of Birdland") unaccompanied until he settles down into "Body and Soul" as the rhythm section joins him, and finishing with a surprise detour into "Summertime," and a playful exchange between the leader and the pianist. Evidently, the master tape ran out a short way into this selection, yet it was salvaged with the help of an audience tape provided by Mauro Liperini. It is little wonder that Francesco Cafiso has earned high praise from the likes of Phil Woods and Ira Gitler, two gentlemen who know the difference between talent and hype.