Salvatore Bonafede is a jazz pianist born in Palermo, Sicily, in 1962. If you’ll pardon the reference to Mario Puzo’s novel The Godfather, he made his bones at the Berklee School of Music, and with bosses Jerry Bergonzi, Joe Lovano, Judi Silvano, the late Lester Bowie, and John Scofield. He is of the generation(s) of jazz players from whom influences beyond jazz are not only not verboten, but to be relished and nurtured. To wit, Bonafede covers two slightly-off-the-beaten-trail Beatles' songs (well-known to Beatles fans, but hardly heavy-rotation radio hits), "Blackbird" and "She’s Leaving Home." The latter Bonefede and his trio open-up in the manner as one of the great Bill Evans trios might have...he muses about and caresses the melody, taking it to new places, while maintaining the yearning, melancholy qualities of the original. The Bonafede three give "Blackbird" a brisk, more up-tempo cast that’s like a cool, welcome splash of water in the face.
The opening track, "Sicilian Opening" is somewhat ironically named, as its punchy, jaunty, steady-rolling rhythms sound more like an intro to New Orleans. Drummer Marcello Pellitteri at times sounds like he’s on the borderline of too-busyness but, nope, he crisply propels the tune quite nicely, "leading" it far more than Bonafede does.
While SB acknowledges the influence of modernist piano aces Chick Corea and McCoy Tyner, I also detect that of Vince Guaraldi (1928-1976), the pianist "behind" the Peanuts cartoons. SB doesn’t so much "sound like" Guaraldi as he’s absorbed his gentle, genial melodiousness. Unlike some contempo-type jazz players, SB does not equate "attractive, pretty, and charming" melody with "selling-out." Nearly all of Opening’s 12 tunes (mostly SB originals) are models of direct, concise construction. And if you think I’m suggesting he’s distancing himself from the jazz tradition, listen to the sublimely and richly bluesy, noir-ish "bbbb" (His spelling honest), I like to think either or both Brubeck and Monk would approve. As do I.