Thursday, February 11, 2021

Pasquale Grasso visits the other Naples

Italian guitarist Pasquale Grasso grew up in the mountain town of Ariano Irpino, just 49 miles  northeast of the nearest major city, Naples. He's been playing guitar since age 4 and has developed a jazz- and classical-influenced mastery of his chosen instrument that is something to behold.

That talent brought him to another Naples, in southwest Florida, on Wednesday, February 10 for a concert showcasing his swinging artistry. He was special guest with the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra as part of the sextet's All That Jazz series at Artis-Naples.

Pasquale Grasso
Guitar players were not the primary musical influence on young Grasso, who grew up in a southern Italy household that loved jazz. He was inspired by the sound of bebop pianists, including Bud Powell, Elmo Hope and Barry Harris. He won the Wes Montgomery International Jazz Guitar Competition in 2015, just three years after moving to New York City, where he has enjoyed a busy career as a performer and educator. Pat Metheny, a jazz guitar god for many, is one of Grasso's biggest fans.

Now 32, Grasso shows a command of his instrument well beyond his age. His warm sound, complex harmonic lines, dexterity and improvisational skills blend into a masterful musicality.

All of those skills were on full display as he and the NPJO dug into nine wide-ranging jazz standards. The resident band includes artistic director Lew Del Gatto on tenor sax, Dan Miller on trumpet, Glenn Basham on violin, Jerry Stawski on piano, Kevin Mauldin on bass and Mike Harvey on drums.

He kicked things off with Powell's bop chestnut "Bouncing With Bud." After the band's romp through Dizzy Gillespie's "Night in Tunisia," the night heated up even more on "Hey George," a contrafact that Powell built over the chord changes to "Sweet Georgia Brown." It was billed as a drum feature for Harvey, but Grasso's teasing, blistering playing kept pace.

Mauldin, Del Gatto
The band's subdued take on George Gershwin's "Soon" was a beautiful feature for Del Gatto, whose  tenor solos are always thoughtful, never overdone. They then dug into Hope's buoyant "Happy Hour." Basham was in the spotlight with a gorgeous exploration of Mercer Ellington's "Moonbeam."

Grasso treated the audience to some beautiful solo guitar as he put his own creative stamp onn the Richard Rodgers- Lorenz Hart ballad "My Heart Stood Still." While it was written in the 1920s, it retained a beautiful freshness in the 2020s in the guitarist's hands.  

Dan Miller, Mike Harvey

They closed the evening with a strong trumpet feature for Miller on "Star Eyes," followed by an all-hands-on-deck take on the playful "Tea For Two."

Safe seating in Hayes Hall
Because of the pandemic, this season's series was moved from the cozy confines of 275-seat Daniels Pavilion to the 1,700-seat Hayes Hall next door, with room for about 200 attendees with safely-distanced seating, masks required.

Stawski, Grasso, Mauldin, Del Gatto, Miller, Basham

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