Joseph Alessi

Return to Sorrento: Italian Songs arranged for Trombone

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Return to Sorrento: Italian Songs arranged for Trombone Review

by James Manheim

Molto piacevole! A CD of familiar Italian tunes arranged for trombone may not be at the top of your list of things to buy, but this one is artful enough to attract attention even beyond the Italian restaurants that might be expected to make up its primary customer base. Trombonist Joseph Alessi has a nice way of scaling his sound back on quieter numbers like O mio babbino caro without losing any tension. The most attractive feature of the album is the variety of backing forces Alessi employs, which, considering that this was likely a low-budget production, is impressive in its range. There is a graceful little group called the Alessi Street Band that resembles a café ensemble, with accordion, mandolin, and stings; Alessi interacts beautifully with this group, never overwhelming it. A harp provides a different flavor of café atmosphere, while other pieces are more energetically accompanied by brass quintet or a group of trombones. The program alternates between Neapolitan songs and operatic selections until the final segment, composed of more contemporary Italian or Italian-American hits. These are backed by Joe's Jersey Jesters Big Band, conducted by famed tubist Sam Pilafian. The group is less humorous than the name might suggest, but altogether expert. The 1950s Domenico Modugno hit "Volare" is given a dreamy, sweet swing treatment that improves on the bouncy renditions that are standard for this tune, and the arrangements by Sammy Nestico of "That's Amore" and "Arrivederci Roma" have quite a few subtleties. The brief booklet is enough to give the reader an idea of how this unique project originated (a trip to Italy was, as you might expect, involved), and save for the variety of imperfectly integrated recording locales it is hard to think of a way the execution of the idea could have been improved.

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