The band is made up of old comrades with whom Letizia has performed over the years. Saxophonist Bob Esterle, drummer Bill Ransom, bassist Matthew Derubertis, and B3 player and pianist Theron Brown. This is Letizia’s first outing with Brown.
While billed as a Jazz quintet playing a Jazz suite, the lines get blurred as the music gracefully and effortlessly glides between Jazz, Blues, and Funk with dashes of Reggae and Classical thrown in to spice things up even more. In the liner notes, Letizia explains, “This suite of compositions reflects the combination of many of the modern styles of Jazz genres from straight ahead to Funk and more. I’ve been influenced by so many great musicians, it’s hard to center on just one…I really enjoyed writing and recording this music from my heart.” It shows.
The album opens with the title track, Chartreuse. The song takes its name from a chartreuse ’57 Chevy owned by his aunt. If it reminds you of the way Bach developed and recapitulated themes, it should. Letizia credits Bach as his favorite composer. Letizia’s guitar and the saxophone of Bob Esterle get some cool dialogues going. Nice strum patterns from Letizia and exciting B-3 play from Theron Brown.
Expanding Reality reflects just that with its excellent tonal lines and shifting times. This one had me intrigued from the start and I kept coming back for more. I still do. Pay attention to Ransom’s drumming. A brilliant track with nice piano from Brown.
Letizia acknowledges that Back & Blue was influenced by Jaco Pastorius’ Chicken. You can hear it. This was a great follow-up to Expanding Reality, keeping your listening honest and nimble, with its straight-up Jazz opening, then flirting with the Blues. Sax, B-3, and guitar combine to shake you loose. Then Letizia challenges the listener with Paradise Found. Just when you think he’s gone ‘round the bend and into atonality, Letizia grippingly pulls it from the brink to keep every listener happy.
Genricide needs a passport to cross all the borders it tackles. Jazz to Hip-Hop to Funk with Latin and Reggae passages make this track a true standout. Esterle’s sax takes the early lead before Letizia assumes command with Brown’s swirling Hammond behind. Derubertis and Ransom keep the drive alive with their sweet switches between rhythmic stylings.
Letizia gives a different look with the nylon-string acoustic guitar on Blue Ionosphere. The Latin, even Brazilian, flavors are sweet as piano and guitar mix it up beautifully. Love, love, love this piece. Then Punch Drunk brings on the bone-crushing Funk with Esterle’s hot horn and the raucous propulsion of bass and drums. But its Letizia who steals the show with some of his hottest passages.
Letizia offers an almost-ballad feel with Wandering and its lush sax and organ textures. Gorgeous guitar and sweeping B-3 and the noir sounds of the sax make for fascinating listening. The B-3 leads are stellar and memorable.
Orange Sunset concludes the album with its nice progressions and wicked guitar playing offset by the equally intoxicating B-3 and the powerful sax against the great rhythm section. If Letizia wanted to leave us wanting more, he succeeded admirably.
Gaetano Letizia’s Chartreuse is a splendid adventure of cross-pollinating styles, times, textures, and more. The compositions are brilliant and the performances are remarkable. Nothing disappoints and you keep coming back for more.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl