Although he's probably best known for his longtime sideman associations with sax icons Michael Brecker and Branford Marsalis, pianist Joey Calderazzo's career as a leader demonstrates his sensitivity, power, and conception. He's played vastly different styles with as much authority as flair, and with increasing clarity over the years. Haiku from 2004 was his first solo album, and there's even more growth and exploration on his latest solo release, Amanecer.
Those familiar with his work with Brecker will enjoy new readings of old pieces. Calderazzo's best-known composition, the slinky "Midnight Voyage," gets a shadowy, stride-like treatment, and the late saxophonist's "Sea Glass" is lush and hymn-like. We're eavesdropping on a haunting communion between the performer and the composer here. The album's title track was formerly recorded as the pensive yet restive "Cat's Cradle" on Two Blocks From the Edge, but it gains even more dimensions with the poignant lyrics and voice of Claudia Acuna, Romero Lubambo's silky guitar, and Calderazzo's own cool, crystalline solo.
His composition "The Lonely Swan" (first recorded on Marsalis's Eternal) has an especially exotic feel and a gorgeous guitar solo, but the highlight of Amanecer's guest performance numbers is the winsome bossa nova ballad "Lara" where the leader sounds as tender as ever. Of course, Calderazzo's uptempo features are just as compelling. He generates plenty of momentum on a reprise of his own "Toonay," and "I've Never Been in Love Before" has never sounded so jaunty and carefree. His rendition is an energetic two-handed affair, brimming with good humor.
With such long-lasting bonds with Brecker and Marsalis, Calderazzo has had the best possible environments in which to develop a focused sound, but even a small sampling of his music reveals that he's also broad in taste and highly adaptable. He retains a strong identity even as he grows, and his newest release explores another remarkable, more intimate side of his performance. In a 1999 Mix Magazine interview, Bob Belden best articulates the beauty of Calderazzo's more introverted musical moments:
Mix Magazine: As a producer, what's an ideal project to work on?
Bob Belden: If I find somebody that wants to make a sentimental, warm album like Joey Calderazzo did with Secrets on Audio Quest, I say, "Hey, let's go." I'm a horrible, incurable, sentimental romantic. It's the kiss of death in New York critical circles, but I truly believe that when music can make you cry it really goes beyond notes on the page and somebody playing an instrument -- it's an act of God.
Joey Calderazzo (piano)
Claudia Acuna (vocals)
Romero Lubambo (guitar)
Joeycalderazzo.com (under construction)
JazzTimes (Calderazzo, and others, discussing their connection with Michael Brecker. Check out "The Thing," in particular.)
YouTube (Highlights: "Acknowledgment" and "Resolution" with Marsalis; "My Favorite Things" with Dave Liebman; "Walls" with Rick Margitza; his trio live in Bruges: 1, 2)
Other SWO favorites:
To Know One
Coltrane's A Love Supreme: Live in Amsterdam (Branford Marsalis DVD & CD)
Tales From the Hudson (Michael Brecker)
Two Blocks From the Edge (Michael Brecker)