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Music Review: Marco Bittelli – Libera

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Let’s face it—expectations are high for anyone whose resume lists legendary jazz guitarist Joe Pass as a teacher. Fortunately, Italian guitarist Marco Bittelli does not disappoint with his album Libera, a collection of classical, Mediterranean, and Latin-inspired instrumentals.

Seven out of the album’s nine tracks are Bittelli compositions, with the exception of “Something to Remember,” co-written with flautist and saxophonist Horace Alexander Young. Wisely, Bittelli surrounds himself with top players, including Young, Charles Argersinger (piano), David Jarvis (drums), Dave Schneider (bass), and Roth Boden (cello). The result is a conglomeration of world sounds that make for some beautiful music.

Bittelli is at his best when playing uptempo, Latin-inspired tunes. “Nudo (Nude)” shuffles with lively solos from Young on flute and Bittelli showing off his nimble finger-picking skills. He successfully incorporates other genres as well; for example, the beginning of “Nexus” borrows “Birdland’s” tempo but boasts a soaring sax solo that effortlessly glides over some rapid changes in beats. Bittelli answers the saxophone notes in his own style, and listening to their audio repartee is an enjoyable experience.

Displaying a touch of fusion, “Pulses” lets bassist Schneider drive the song with some complicated lines. Argersinger backs the band with soft but effective keyboards, and once again Young and Bittelli trade licks. This time, Bittelli wields a slightly more aggressive electric guitar.

Pass’s style permeates the title track, with an unaccompanied Bittelli displaying his musical artistry. Any student of jazz guitar will appreciate this lovely, stripped-down ballad.

Marco Bittelli

More exotic touches can be found on “Vento Sulla Palouse (Wind on the Palouse),” with the guitar work and Young’s flute lending the tune a Mediterranean air. The subtle yet effective interplay of guitar and flute vividly evoke gentle breezes. Toward the end of the song, Bittelli lets loose with some rapid notes that sound reminiscent of swirling gypsy music. For a different cultural influence, listen to Young and Bittelli’s interplay on “Gennaio 1997 [Reprise].” Their notes have a classical feel, more suited for ballet than jazz alone.

The entire band works well together on “Something to Remember,” a mid-tempo track with a gentle Latin beat. Jarvis performs as a drummer should—making fills sound simple, but demanding a closer listen. Schneider’s complicated yet elegant bass lines set the tempo just as much as the drums. Add some flute and piano that perfectly interweave, and Bittelli’s effortless guitar playing, and what results is a classic example of world music fused with jazz.

Libera exemplifies classic jazz guitar, but adds some unusual touches to transform songs from typical instrumentals to interesting, fully realized compositions. Bittelli’s career is worth following, as he appears committed to forming his own sound while honoring traditional rhythms and melodies. Fans of Joe Pass-style guitar should not overllook this lovely album.

For more information on Marco Bittelli, visit his official website.

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