Antonio Ciacca Quintet – Volare, The Italian American Songbook – Cellar Live

Antonio Ciacca Quintet – Volare, The Italian American Songbook – Cellar Live CL101815, 55:31 ***:

A mostly robust and assertive session.

(Antonio Ciacca – piano; Paul Gill – acoustic bass; Peter Van Nostrand – drums; Cory Weeds – tenor saxophone; Benny Benack III – trumpet & vocals)

The Italian word Volare means “to fly” in English. It was the title to  a popular song of the same name with a sub-title of ‘nel blu di pinto di blu‘ ( translated as “in the blue that is painted blue”). Composed, recorded and sung by Domenico Modugno, it won a Grammy in 1958 for record and song of the year. Although the other tracks on this Volare release do not have Italian-sounding titles, their congruity comes from the composers.  Pianist Antonio Ciacca who is originally from Foggia, Italy composed six compositions, Harry Warren (born Salvatore Antonio Guaragna) two numbers, and Frank Signorelli one.

While the titling may be the thinnest pretension, the music itself is mostly robust and assertive. The trio of Ciacca/Gill /Van Nostrand open the session with the title track “Volare” in sprightly-swinging fashion and while Ciacca shows he has the chops to hold the tune together, he often falls back on quotes from other compositions – rather unique improvisations.

Ciacca seems to find his sea legs when the front line of tenor saxophonist Cory Weeds and trumpeter Benny Benack III join the band. Ciacca’s own composition “Chick’s Tune” gives the band a chance to show their mettle as they open up the tune with some nimble unison playing. Weeds is sure-footed with a bold tone, when he is fully on his game. Benack III  seems less sure of himself,and stays pretty much in the middle register when he ventures into his solo space. The outcome is much better with the Harry Warren composition “Summer Night”. Perhaps the tune’s structure has something to do with it, as it has a stronger frame within which they can construct their improvisations. Weeds is gruffly efficient, and Benack III remains within his comfort zone. Ciacca’s solo is well-thought out, and he covers the keyboard with some incisiveness.

The other two standards, “Stairway To The Stars” and “The More I See You”, are less successful as trumpeter Benack III seems to think he is channeling Chet Baker. However neither his trumpet playing, nor his singing are any match for that tragic performer. While the effort is undoubtedly-well-intentioned, the results might have best remained in the can, especially the cringe-inducing attempt at scatting on the second number. [It’s amazing the number of vocalists on record who think they can scat when they can’t…Ed.]

The close-out number, “Helen’s Song”, has a dry brassiness and moves along at nimble pace. Weeds’ tenor is intense, while trumpeter Benack III shows elasticity. There are some nice drum breaks from Peter Van Nostrand and pianist Ciacca dives into a strong solo right after the unison opening from the tenor sax and trumpet.

TrackList: Volare; Chick’s Tune; Vancouver Fall; Summer Night; Joe Avenue; Stairway To The Stars; Scotty; Thad Jones; The More I See You; Helen’s Song

—Pierre Giroux

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