Naples-born composer and alto saxophonist Marco Zurzolo (as Wachovia Jazz director/producer Michael Grofsorean pointed out in his elegant introduction, that’s pronounced “Zúr-zolo” rather than “Zur-zólo”) certainly knows the sights, sounds, and flavors of the rich Mediterranean culture — and he knows how to express his love and appreciation for it all through his tunes.

He and his quartet — guitarist Giacinto Piracci, trombone player Alessandro Tedesco, electric bassist Emiliano De Luca, and drummer Gianluca Brugnano — walked onstage dressed in T-shirts and jeans and filled the night air with a unique variety of Euro/Latin-jazz styles and rhythms in front of an appreciative audience on Sunday, May 28.

Opening with a peppery, minor-key call-and-response between the alto sax and the other instruments, the band ripped into a lively set of dynamic grooves — sometimes swingin’, sometimes funky — and wailing solos. With Zurzolo’s wild runs (and wide range) and the rhythm section’s electric funk grooves, it almost sounded like the Italian Weather Report jamming with a Klezmer Return to Forever. The band constantly changed things, however, shifting from tempo to tempo with ease and maneuvering from one extreme dynamic to the other.

Drummer Brugnano had serious chops and came off a bit showy, rolling excessively on his hi-hats and cymbals and waving his left drum stick in the air like Alex Van Halen or something, but he propelled everything at the perfect pace, from the slower, brushes ’n’ mallets stuff to the fiesty 2/4 and 5/8 “rapido/molto veloce” pieces.

Zurzolo and horn player Tedesco (a guy who can make the trombone sound like a tuba or a cornet in one solo) played around Zurzolo’s melodic themes — often in unusual harmonies or counterparts. They played off of each other throughout the set, strolling out of the spotlights to side-stage while the others took solos. The entire group became more playful as they pressed ahead, and seemed to be cracking each other up with fills and flourishes. It was fun to watch and invigorating to hear.

Zurzolo and his combo had completely won the crowd over and continued to jam on a number of tunes off of his most recent recording, 7 e Mezzo, as well as a few unexpected popular themes (“Mein Hut der hat drei Ecken” and “La Cucaracha”).

“Good-ah night,” said the bandleader over the microphone, in his admittedly shaky English. “I have a beeg problem … but-ah … I have solution possible.” Prompted by his bandmates, he smiled at the crowd as he gathered his words and introduced the members. “I hamm berry happy,” he stated (to much applause) “… to be here!” (to even more applause). “We would like to thank you to invite us thees-ah festival jazz!”

Well put, indeed. Grazie.

Marco Zurzolo • Spoleto Festival USA’s Wachovia Jazz Series • Sun. May 28 at The Cistern

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