Congregation of Folks
As his debut received an enthusiastic endorsement from saxophone great Joe Lovano, that might be all the encouragement that the budding newcomer Daniele Germani needs. Indeed, A Congregation of Folks introduces a riveting and spirited voice on the alto saxophone, and an intriguing, unique composer. Ten modern jazz compositions, all penned by Germani, blossom with the help of his tight-knit quartet consisting of pianist Justin Salisbury, bassist Giuseppe Cucchiara and drummer Jongkuk Kim.
Originally from the Frosinone region of Italy but based in Brooklyn, NY, Daniele Germani is an emerging star on the contemporary New York jazz scene. A graduate of the Conservatory of Frosinone, Germani moved to Boston in 2013 when he was offered a scholarship to attend Berklee College of Music. While there, he was admitted to Danilo Perez’s prestigious Berklee Global Jazz Institute, where he studied under the tutelage of Terri Lyne Carrington, Joe Lovano, and his mentor, George Garzone. Boston was also where Germani cut his teeth as a live performer at Wally’s Jazz Café, well known as a training ground for local and rising musicians. A shifting “congregation of folks” from all parts of the world would join Germani night after night at the storied venue. Wally’s played a vital role in Germani’s musical and personal development, and much of the club’s vibrant and inspiring spirit is captured on this recorded debut.
It was also early during his time in Boston when Germani linked up with fellow Italian bassist Giuseppe Cucchiara, South Korean drummer Jongkuk Kim and Oregon-born pianist Justin Salisbury. They performed frequently in Boston – at Wally’s and in assorted ensembles at Berklee – and they remained a unit through their graduation and subsequent move to New York City in 2017. Since then, they have continued to perform together, as well as build successful independent careers on their own, each ascending to “first call” status among their talented peers.
Germani took on a personal challenge in 2019 at the behest of his good friend and frequent collaborator Leo Genovese, the Argentinian pianist/composer/bandleader and valuable sideman for artist such as Esperanza Spalding and Leni Stern. Inspired by Genovese’s trove of compositions, Germani challenged himself to write one song a day. To date, Germani has written over 450 songs. Two of them appear on Leave It Blank For Now; Germani’s 2020 Chant Records release with Genovese, his Wally’s bandmate Boni, stalwart bassist Francesco Marcocci and once again, Kim. Ten originals are featured on this stunning debut.
Be prepared for a wide array of moods, from the contemplative to the raucous and just about anything in between. You won’t find many hard swingers and even straight-ahead tunes here, but you will encounter passages of free jazz and gorgeous ballads., the latter reminds of Lovano’s most recent Tapestry outing, hence perhaps Lovano’s praise.
Highlights include the high energy opener “They Move In On The Action” which shifts gears and ends on a calming, peaceful note, leading beautifully to the lyrical “One Moment to Moment”, a lovely showcase for Salisbury. “The Capitalist Greed’ is a fine example of Germani’s clean tone and fluid playing across tricky rhythm changes that his rhythm mates deftly handle. This leads to the meditative title track which opens with a gorgeous saxophone solo intro “meant to call beloved folks together”. This track was inspired by the album’s front cover: his parents’ wedding picture with Germani and his band digitally superimposed in the shot, bringing everyone together.
The quartet shines on “Half Believe It,” another tune with several changes, starting and stopping as if one wants to believe, reconsiders, and then starts convincing oneself. Germani navigates a meandering path at a rapid gait, challenging his bandmates who are more than up to the task, with Kim taking the lead at the end, rolling into the final notes. “In the Field of the Unconscious” is, per the title, a brooding piece that is one of Kim’s finest performances on the kit, another display of beautiful shimmering piano from Salisbury, with lyrical support from Cucchiara.
“Eres Luz,” with its bass “Variation” intro has another one of those pleasing, wandering melodies that characterize the album, ending in sublime peace. “But It Doesn’t Mean It’s Danger Free” is a mix of composition and free jazz. Another intriguing track is “No Clouds in the Air,” a contemplative exploration that kicks off with a heavy drone, haunted and prescient, while Germani and his band duel in tones, creating a rich soundscape that reaches not a boil, but a high simmer before completely evaporating. “You Won’t Find A Better Listener” is joyous and musical conversation between Germani, who delivers some of his most aggressive playing here, and Salisbury, likened in the liners to “the best late- night conversation, full effervescence and depth.”
– Jim Hynes