In the southern regions of Italy, the locals speak not textbook Italian but, rather, the “Neapolitan” language, which includes a group of dialects united around Naples. Considered too “low-class” and “vulgar” for official recognition and acceptance by upper-peninsula Italians, Neapolitan thrives, nonetheless, as a sort of working-class dialect enjoyed among true Southerners.
One talented Southerner who embraces the strongest, earthiest qualities of Mediterranean culture and the defiantly independent spirit of Naples is musician Marco Zurzolo, a Naples-born composer, flutist, and alto saxophonist known for his improvisational skills and regionalistic flair.
Zurzolo graduated with a jazz degree from the Conservatory of Music in Naples with saxophone as his principal instrument. During his early career, he collaborated on several diverse musical recordings and tours with many Italian and international artists, such as Chet Baker, Solomon Burke, Van Morrison, Don Moye and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and Enrico Pierannunzi. For over 10 years, he worked professionally as a composer, arranger, studio player, and live performer, composing music for films, theatre pieces, and television, and receiving many awards and prizes for his contributions.
His most recent recording, 7 e Mezzo (“Seven and a Half”), explores “the ethnic roots of Mediterranean and Neapolitan folk music traditions” and features an international blend of themes, melodies, and rhythms.
“7 e Mezzo is the beginning of a new way to enjoy music, with intimacy and romance,” says Zurzolo, via an e-mail interview translated by his wife. “I have titled this album with the name of a Neapolitan card game because, as players, we go for it on our road trips. It takes you away from the idea that we have to wait for and watch what happens to the world around us. I use the title because Naples is always present in my life and, in this particular moment, is symbolic of this attitude.”
The dynamic and often swingin’ sounds on his album bridge a gap between the post-bop Italian jazz of recent decades and an older mix of Mediterranean folk music. It reflects the rich cultural diversity of Naples and its complex musical history.
Zurzolo’s current combo features some of Naples’ finest young jazz cats. Guitarist Giacinto Piracci was born in Naples and graduated from the Conservatory of San Pietro a Majella. He has played in several festivals and is actively involved in the jazz club, collaborating with several Italian musicians. Trombone player Alessandro Tedesco is from Benevento. He studies with musicians at the San Carlo Theatre in Naples and regularly participates in recordings and television shows on networks RAI and Mediaset. Bassist Emiliano De Luca was born in Naples, too. He studied and developed his technique at the Music University in Rome and currently works as a session musician in Naples.
At the heart of Zurzolo’s rhythm section is a fiery percussive duo. Drummer Gianluca Brugnano, from Milan, continues to study, teach, and perform in Naples alongside his bandmates. Percussionist Massimo Cusato, originally from Gerace, studied in Rome with some of Italy’s finest traditional percussionists. Their Mediterranean rhythmic influences propel much of what the combo does, guiding the music through variable syncopated patterns and beats toward an almost carnival-like atmosphere.
MARCO ZURZOLO • Spoleto Festival USA’s Wachovia Jazz Series • $25-$40 • May 28 at 9 p.m. • 1 hour 30 min • The Cistern, 66 George St. • 579-3100