Grasso admits to Django being a guitar hero but reveals a different influence in his playing. “My style of playing is closer to bud Powell, Charlie Parker and Art Tatum.” And he shows it.
Grasso was born in Ariano Irpino, Italy, and found his aptitude for guitar at a very young age. He studied classical guitar at the Music Conservatory of Bologna and has combined that fine skill with the innovative approaches he learned in studying Jazz. The result is the best of both worlds.
After racking up awards in Italy’s great festivals and competitions, Grasso moved to New York City in 2012 and became a welcomed part of that great music scene. He joined Ari Roland’s Quartet and the Chris Byars Quartet. In that same year, he was named a Jazz Ambassador with the US Embassy and traveling all over Europe, the Middle East and the Mediterranean. In only three years, Pasquale Grasso has become an important fixture in the American music world.
Grasso has played and recorded with quartets, septets and octets and, of course, the duet with Prene in 2015. He has also released his first solo album, “Reflections of Me.” It is a finely named album as it truly reflects the Jazz style and personality of Grasso himself through his choice of standards and with the four original compositions on the album.
The album begins with “Time On My Hands,” the 1930 song by Vincent Youmans. It was recorded by Django Reinhardt in 1939 and is a great introduction to the album and to Pasquale Grasso himself. The quick runs and smooth chords are a great start.
“Rain Drops” is an original by Grasso. He described it to me in these words: “I was in New Orleans when I wrote this song. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to that city, but when it rains, it is really something else! Anyways, I was sitting on a balcony in the French Quarter and the sky was turning black, thunder in the distance. In a sense, the song relates to the rain itself. Each drop is uniquely its own, but they all come from the same place. To that end, I’m always trying to find new ways to challenge myself in music. I begin with what may seem a simple melody, which then I build and shape into an evolved and complex musical thought.”
Listening to “Rain Drops,” it is easy to picture the cascading water off of the rooftops and along the streets. The heavy rain drops make big splashes in the collected pools of water, all vividly depicted in Grasso’s guitar. So technically proficient but, more, Grasso infuses his heart and personality into the work.
Grasso then embarks on a Duke Ellington collection called, “Medley: Prelude to a Kiss / Sophisticated Lady / Chelsea Bridge.” Ellington made them all famous and recorded them all. Ellington also wrote the first two pieces of the medley with Billy Strayhorn writing “Chelsea Bridge.”
This is a beautiful assemblage of Ellington’s work. The transitions are fluid and fitting and prove Grasso’s intuition and skill as arranger as well as guitarist.
“Chasin' the Bird” by Charlie Parker follows next. A great choice for Grasso’s interpretive guitar. The melodic stays strong and the result is splendid. Grasso manages to give the full feel of a larger ensemble. Beautifully done.
“For You, My Dear Mary” is a breath-taking original composition. Grasso described his song like this: “This song is dedicated to my girlfriend. I met Mary just over a year ago, here in New York City. From the beginning, our relationship has been the most natural and beautiful thing I could ever imagine. The music came to me just as simply. It was almost as if the notes had always been there, but I had just not trained my ear to hear them. Her love and support helped me to grow as a musician as well as an individual.”
Indeed, there is an effortless aspect to this piece. It may be well-constructed but that is the result of inspiration as much as skill.
There is a charm and warmth here, for now-obvious reasons. Despite the presence of the great Jazz masterpieces on the album, this is the standout piece. Near the 2:11 mark, you hear what sounds to be an audible sniff. It is as though the thought of Mary has moved him so deeply that the emotion cannot be contained. Nor should be.
Then comes “Oblivion” by Bud Powell. The tone and tempo are different from Piazzola’s “New Tango” original. Perhaps the most virtuosic piece on the album, Grasso lights it up with great energy and imagination.
“Lament of the South” is another piece by Pasquale Grasso. Again, I will let him speak for himself.
“Lament of the South begins with four bars representing the tears that my parents shed when I left Italy to pursue a musical career in NYC. It is a tribute to all of those who have ever made sacrifices to find their true purpose in life.
“Something unique about this song is that the entire bridge is improvised. This is meant to signify the mystery that one finds when exploring a new country. People are often times afraid of or uncertain about the unknown, but I believe it is something beautiful. It is a song of nostalgia, but also of the beauty of finding my calling in life.”
It is true. The finding of one’s calling or purpose or mission is full of mystery and sometimes comes late. But it is always worth the wait, even if it tarries.
“Yesterdays” is a swinging piece. And why not? Jerome Kern composed it in 1933 and is the ninth most-covered song in Jazz repertoire. Grasso covers it brilliantly, equaling certainly but perhaps surpassing that of Larry Coryell. You decide.
“Phantasmagoria” is the final original to appear on “Reflections of Me.” It is not as spooky as the times would suggest.
According to Pasquale, “Everyone strives towards what they perceive as the ‘perfect’ or ‘ideal’ sound on their instrument. I put this vision on a pedestal - romanticized it, even - and would work each day to achieve a certain level of perfection. Quickly I saw that the more I learn, the more the definition of ‘perfect’ seemed to change.
“A phantasmagoria is a scene that is dreamlike, constantly changing and morphing into something new, often in strange ways. For that reason, I try think out of the box and pull inspiration from all genres. I look for musical direction in the great musicians of the past - from Bud Powell and Charlie Parker to Chopin, there is always something to be learned. In a sense, the song is a reflection of the present - who I am as a musician today and also of the adoration that I hold for the past.”
It is surely a work of ascendance and progression. Firmly rooted in the past, made manifest in the present but with a view to the future, it becomes a point of reference for looking back from the future. Altogether splendid.
“How High Is the Moon” is the Morgan Lewis composition that became a hit under Benny Goodman in 1940 and again under Stan Kenton’s arrangement in 1948.
The solo guitar arrangement has the same swing and sweetness of all the great versions. It is also a statement to describe Grasso’s own talents and aspiration. However high the moon is, he will get there.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl
Visit his website at: http://pasqualegrasso.com/Pasquale-Grasso
"Like" him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/grassopasquale
Purchase "Reflections of Me" on MP3 at Amazon by clicking the link below.