Italian pianist and composer Salvatore Bonafede has an uncanny ability to work distinctive, diverse cultural content through his unassuming Sicilian lens to come up with a vibe that is all at once accessible and deliciously full of flavour.
Sicilian Opening, Bonafede’s latest record involving his trio, uses a host of Mediterranean melodies but turns them on their sides to render them as elegant, universal themes. Bonafede’s compositions tackle everything from Arabic music to Beatles tunes, leaving plenty of room for breath and contemplation.
Bonafede’s trio is composed of two other Sicilians, both based out of New York. Drummer Marcello Pellitteri and bassist Marco Panascia play thoughtfully, gently highlighting Bonafede’s piano lead with the true consistent aroma of a fine group.
Sicilian Opening begins with the title track. We’re introduced to Pellitteri’s drums as a sort of invitation, offering a fitting greeting to a song that is an adaptation of a New Orleans “invitation to dance.” It certainly is a tune to move to.
Bonafede’s trio touches on Arabic themes with “La grande ilusion” and “Appunti su Palermo,” two tracks with a very distinct cultural stew serving as underpinning. With “Appunti su Palermo,” Bonafede’s piano serves as a haunting but compassionate guide to stories of love turning swiftly and suddenly to fear and obsession. It is a piece of high drama and Bonafede’s playing serves to delicately underscore the innate tension without overwhelming the listener.
Bonafede was born in Palermo, Italy, and taught himself piano at the age of four. He went on to graduate from the Palermo Conservatory of Music and had earned a scholarship to the Berklee College of Music in Boston by 1986. While in Boston, Bonafede developed a reputation as a leader and player of considerable importance.
Sicilian Opening is the next step in the journey for the pianist who was named “Top Young Player” by Musica Jazz magazine in 1991. He may be a ways removed from the early 1990s, but Bonafede’s energy and style still brims with youth and passion.
“Torre Ligny” demonstrates this beautifully, allowing Bonafede to join with Panascia and Pellitteri in a swinging fresco for the city of Trapani.
Whether it’s gorgeous and poetic music that calls up the culture of Bonafede’s background or a simple, neat take on “Blackbird” that builds on controlled solos and an eager rhythm, Sicilian Opening’s take on culture and the classics is well worth several repeat spins.