RETURN TO SORRENTO - Italian Songs arranged for Trombone
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RETURN TO SORRENTO
Italian Songs arranged for Trombone
Whether composed for the opera stage, written for Neapolitan contests or evolving directly from folk traditions, the Italian song is earthy, passionate and haunting, often reminding the listener that the greatest tragedy in life is not death, but to be far from home.* In "Return to Sorrento", Joseph Alessi, principal trombonist of the New York Philharmonic, brings his astounding virtuosity to take us back to his Italian origins, shedding fresh light on familiar pieces, and introducing new work influenced by the music of his ancestors.
Alessi's Italian roots are deep indeed: the earliest of his forbears known to play brass was his great-grandfather, a Sicilian who played trombone in the town band. But it was his grandfather, a cornetist sent to America to pursue work as a barber's assistant, who believed enough in hard work and his own talent to land the coveted soloist position at the Rialto Theatre. Alessi's father continued the tradition of trumpet mastery, both as a teacher and as a performer, giving Joseph his first trombone and a sturdy connection to his Italian heritage. Young Joseph grew up with the sounds of Italian opera ringing in the house: not only did Joseph, Sr. play trumpet in the pit of the Metropolitan Opera, but his mother, Maria Leone Alessi, was a soprano on the very same stage.
During two trips through Italy several years ago, Alessi was so moved by the music all around him in the streets and cafes that the idea for this album began to evolve. An accordion trio playing Ernesto DeCurtis' ' Turno di Surrient'' (not written for a lover, but for a Prime Minister to return to Sorrento in 1902!) was an inspiration for the album and the variety of arrangements found here. In the opening three tracks, the trombone becomes the "lead singer" in the street-style ensemble of accordion, mandolin and bass. All three works are classic "canzone Napoletana", songs produced by the annual songwriting competition started in 1835 as part of the Festival of Piedigrotta and traditionally sung in the Neapolitan dialect. Eduardo di Capua's (1865-1917) enchanting ' Maria Mari' and Paolo Tosti's (1846-1916) ' Mare chiar'' display Alessi's sensitivity to a body of work so universally known and loved that it is often mistaken for Italian folk music.
Giacomo Puccini's arias ' Nessun dorma' and ' Un bel di' are given new perspectives in Robert Elkjer's arrangements for piano and solo trombone. The intimate treatment of Calaf's aria from Turandot has passages bordering on improvisation, and Madama Butterfly's ageless aria, while hewing closely to the composer's original harmony, allows Alessi to demonstrate true cantabile (singing) qualities of his instrument.
The dance associated with the southern town of Taranto (and the hairy spider known to inhabit her fields) is still the mainstay of Italian weddings and joyous celebrations. Gioacchino Rossini's La danza (1835) is a tarantella of the Neapolitan style, arranged here by James Markey and performed by Alessi and the Extension Ensemble Brass Quintet. The group negotiates the brisk 6/8 meter with rapid exchanges between trumpet and trombone, unleashing the full frenzy of the dance contrived as an antidote to the tarantula's venom.
"You should give the world more Barbers", Ludwig van Beethoven said to Rossini in 1823, referring to the most popular opera of the Italian's catalogue. Who would have thought that, nearly 200 years later, the simple two-note motif of the Overture to The Barber of Seville, the rising and falling semitone, would be nearly as famous as the four-note opening of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 ? With Warren Jones, Alessi brings humour and agility to this comic masterpiece. Rossini, sometimes known as the "King of Crescendo" becomes the "King of Accelerando" as well when Alessi and Jones take the coda to its breathless conclusion.
Musetta, the beloved and brassy seductress of Puccini's La Bohème, is given an almost contemplative voice in this presentation of ' Quando m'en vo'', her immortal Second Act aria. The Alessi Street Band, with its accordion accompaniment, strikes a tone perfectly suited to the Café Momus. In the next Puccini gem, ' O mio babbino caro' from Gianni Schicchi, Barbara Allen's harp provides a heavenly setting for the classic melody.
"Libiamo" Alfredo cries in the first scene of La Traviata lifting his glass to invite Violetta and her guests to live and love. But it would be difficult indeed to drink and play one's way through Elkjer's theme and variations on Verdi's Brindisi, with its brilliant arpeggios, surprising swing section and exuberant finale.
Composer/trombonist Nicola Ferro (born 1974) contributes two works that place him solidly in the tradition of composers selected for this anthology. Daybreak and Sunset evidence a sense of operatic drama and scale, with distinct influences of contemporary jazz harmony that point toward the last section of the album.
Even the great German composer Richard Strauss was capable of confusing "canzone Napoletana" with folk music. In 1886 he innocently incorporated ' Finniculi Finnicula' into the tone poem Aus Italien, thinking it was a tune of anonymous origin that would add some regional flavor to his new orchestral work. To his embarrassment, Strauss had to pay royalties to Luigi Denza (1846-1921) who had composed the piece eight years earlier for the competition at the Feast of Piedigrotta, and had won. In this inventive tema e variazioni arranged by James Kazik, Alessi and the Juilliard Trombone Choir put the jubilant melody of ' Napoli' through its paces, including an adagio section scored with the all the dark drama of Verdi in mid-career.
In two Sammy Nestico big-band arrangements, Alessi is given an opportunity to demonstrate his improvisatory powers. Domenico Modugno's ' Volare' ("to fly") literally "lifts off " from ballad to bossa nova, while Harry Warren's novelty ' That's Amore' is re-routed from the romping waltz time of the familiar Dean Martin version to a sophisticated 4/4 swing. Joe's Jersey Jazz Jesters complete Alessi's soulful Italian journey with a cha cha rendition of ' Arrivederci Roma'.