Francesco Cafiso: Louisiana
Francesco Cafiso (alto sax)
Happy Time (Cam 5014)
Composed by Francesco Cafiso.
Recorded: Udine, October 31-November 1, 2005
Rating: 93/100 (learn more)
Too often these days jazz writers hear about child prodigies via press releases from hired publicists. Francesco Cafiso made his name the old fashioned way, via word-of-mouth from other musicians. (Yes, kiddies, that was how reputations were once established in the jazz world.) The turning point for Cafiso came when Wynton Marsalis called the young altoist from Sicily the best 13-year-old saxophonist he had ever heard.
As I am writing this review, I note that it is Cafiso's 20th birthday. Yet even now, this artist is under-marketed rather than over-exposed, especially in the US. His appearance in Washington D.C. earlier this year to perform at events in honor of Barack Obama's innauguration and Martin Luther King Jr. day was a rare moment of prominence stateside for this extroverted performer. Cafiso plays with authority and authenticity, and his recordings testify not only to his own musicality, but also to how far jazz has come in Europe, where the leading players these day are staking out their own ground with less and less concern about following the road map set by U.S. trends.
This track, recorded when Cafiso was sixteen, is dedicated to pianist James Williams, who had died fifteen months before the session. From the opening bars, Cafiso shows that he's in charge. His duet with drummer Bagnoli is a musical sparring match that the saxophonist wins hands down. His long, sizzling lines literally force the drummer to raise his own intensity level. When you start a performance with this level of energy, it is hard to maintain it, let alone build it to something bigger. In truth, when the piano solo starts two minutes into the performance, the music loses much of its bite. Yet Cafiso's contribution here is impressive, and especially so when one considers his "tender years" at the time. Needless to say, there is nothing tender about his work on the horn.
Reviewer: Ted Gioia