Street Date: June 10, 2016
Release Concert: Blue Note Jazz Festival, Highline Ball Room, June 9, 2016
On the surface, the aphorism “life begins at forty” wouldn’t seem to apply to guitarist-composer Fabrizio Sotti, who attained that milestone last year.
A New Yorker since 1991, when he emigrated from Padua, Italy, as an ambitious, jazz obsessed 16-year-old, Sotti drew on a broad palette of jazz-imparted musical knowledge when producing hit tracks with artists like Dead Prez, Ghostface Killah, Q-Tip, Tupac, and Whitney Houston while still in his twenties, as well as two collaborations Glamoured, from 2003, and Another Country, from 2012, with the great jazz diva, Cassandra Wilson . In parallel, he built a distinguished career as a highly-respected jazz stylist, documented on three accomplished recordings—This World Upside Down, from 1999, with jazz titans Randy Brecker, John Patitucci and Al Foster; Through My Eyes, from 2003, a solo guitar recital; and Inner Dance, from 2010, with organist Sam Barsh, drummer Victor Jones, and percussionist Mino Cinelu—on which he showcases the considerable electric and acoustic guitar skills that are the centerpiece of this, his latest offering.
The title, Forty, testifies to Sotti’s assertion that the onset of his fifth decade signifies a sea change in both his personal life-path and aesthetic development. “Forty is more than arriving at one spot,” he says. “It’s starting from the beginning to a new place. Artistically, as you get older, you understand how much you still have to discover, how much more deeply you can go into yourself to improve your playing and understand what you really want to say.”
For the occasion, Sotti recruited an A-list trio of emigres—Bulgarian-born bassist Peter Slavov, and Cuban-born drummer Francisco Mela. “We mesh stylistically, and we’re about the same age, so I think we can keep going for a while,” he says. “Peter is a complete musician with a strong melodic sense and a thorough classical music background. He’s able to be free while respecting the tradition. Francisco also brings a melodic approach and is completely a free thinker. He’s a force of nature. When he swings, it swings hard; when he’s not swinging, it’s so creative, he fills up the music with something magical.”
Sotti began preparing the repertoire for Forty not long after meeting his wife, in the vicinity of the release of Right Now, from 2013, “a Herbie Hancock-type” collaborative album on which his trio with bassist Tony Gray and Cinelu interacts with high Q-score figures Ice-T, Shaggy, Melanie Fiona, Zucchero and Algebra Blessett. “It was in the vein of what I’ve done with Cassandra—mixing genres and trying to be more accessible,” Sotti says. That descriptor also applies to On The Way, from 2014, which Sotti produced for and played on with Italian piano virtuoso Alberto Pizzo, as did Cinelu, Dire Straits co-founder David Knopfler and Toquinho.
“I wanted to go back to the basics, the way I started when I was studying jazz as a kid, playing in small combos with bass and drums,” Sotti says. “I wanted to be very clear in my phrasing, to be to-the-point and not overplay. I wanted to do a pure jazz recording, but using all original compositions, not standard material. My new family influenced the music a lot; the melody of each piece means something personal. It’s a relief album, something that had to come out of me.”
His concise exegesis of the opening track, “Redemption,” a 3/4 minor blues, hints at the autobiographical substrate that bedrocks the proceedings. “It means redemption between myself and people around me, to accept me for really who I am,” says Sotti, whose divorced parents, both Doctors of Medicine, urged him to follow their career path in lieu of a musician’s life. His paternal grandmother, Alda Sotti, who held a degree in music and was Sotti’s piano teacher, “understood me and began to teach me to play under the radar of the family, and by the time I was 5 or 6 I could already read music, though I couldn’t read or write words yet.” At 9, after Sotti’s mother relocated with him and his younger brother to a small apartment with no room for a piano, he received his first guitar.
From then on, Sotti says, “I was only doing music all day.” Among other things, he absorbed jazz guitar method books by Joe Pass, Mick Goodrick and Joe Diorio; from age 12 until his first U.S. sojourn he gigged and played in recording studios. “I saved some money, and told my parents I was going to hang out in America for the summer,” he recalls. Sotti had met guitar heroes like Pat Metheny, John Scofield, Jim Hall and Mike Stern at festivals; Stern gave the promising teenager his number and told him to call if got to New York. Sotti did, and Stern provided a couch to sleep on.
The summer turned into three years, before Sotti, during a trip to Italy, was conscripted into military service. After two years stationed at the Aviano Air Force base on the border of Yugoslavia, he returned to the jazz capital in September 1996, no longer a member of the jazz police. “Before the Army I was very snobbish, always having to prove I was good enough to play jazz, although I always played a lot of different styles,” he says. “But when I came back, I’d listened to so much other music that it opened my mind, and I realized I should embrace music at the larger level, not just thinking about my instrument. I found a place I could afford on 138th Street between Broadway and Riverside Drive, not a very good neighborhood for a white kid twenty years ago, and I built a small recording studio there. I was hanging out in clubs, and started to get into hip-hop. Artists like Tupac and B.I.G. were coming out, and it caught my attention how they sampled music—a lot of jazz sometimes—into a beat that people would dance to. I started to make these beats, not producing in a traditional way, but layering sounds. It was like improvising in jazz. So I always had this dual career—producing music on my label and being a jazz artist and making jazz records or playing with jazz musicians.”
Sotti unleashes the full measure of his jazz chops on “Dangerous Walk,” a brisk, disjunctive, Monkish line “inspired by the walk of women, and particularly my wife,” and “Is That What You Think” “a B-flat blues with an aggressive melody that I wrote after I read a review of one my albums that I didn’t like too much.”
The mood changes on “Beginning Now,” played a cappella by Sotti on nylon string guitar. “I wrote the melody remembering a very sad day, when my mother organized a birthday party for my brother, who was turning 5 or 6,” he says. “Because we were a divorced family, not one kid showed up. That’s the moment I decided that I would fight to find my happiness.” It fades into Antonio Carlos Jobim’s iconic “How Insensitive,” which Sotti’s grandmother played for him before he was 10. The solos by Sotti and Slavov “embrace the feeling of how insensitive it was for people to do that to us.”
For Sotti, the title track represents “how I like to play right now—you can hear the joyful playfulness between these different rhythms, going from a modern funk rubato to a straight ahead swinging thing, playing what I like with nothing to prove.” He composed the expressive melody of the ballad “So Far, So Close,” rendered as a Sotti-Slavov duo, for his younger brother. “We’re very close,” Sotti says. “Sometimes we don’t talk for a month, but I know he’s a presence.” The trio returns for the calypso-flavored “Thalia,” named for Sotti’s year-old daughter, and written a few weeks before her birth. “The happy melody is how I felt when we were waiting for her and how she makes me feel now.”
Although “Thalia” has a Jim Hall-ish flavor, “The Bridge,” which follows, entirely represents Sotti’s mature voice. It’s a love song with a bluesy connotation named for the Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs) in Venice, where Sotti and his bride decided to get married. “Venice is a 15-minute train ride from Padua, and my grandparents took me there on Sundays to listen to classical music,” says Sotti, who prefaces the song with a brief introduction that references the experience of hearing Bach’s organ music on those expeditions.
“The jazz world is very particular,” Sotti concludes. “When you want to expand, people often make you afraid you won’t be accepted. But on this album, I’ve expanded. You want to hear Wes Montgomery? I’ve learned that. You want to hear Jim Hall or Mike Stern? Everything is there. But now it’s me—my personality, my feelings, my way of playing.”
Liner notes by Ted Panken
TRAVIS ROGERS JR
"Forty is a wonder. Fabrizio Sotti expresses himself with fearless abandon and reveals what beats within his heart. Peter Slavov and Francisco Mela support the moods and even enhance the moods with their easy rapport with Sotti. The writing is exquisite and the artistry of the musicians is beyond question. It is a sincere work of maturity, of wisdom, and of love." Read here.
"Never over playing or playing without taste and style, this is a smoking jazz guitar trio date that paints several different pictures but hangs together as a solid whole. Solid stuff." Read here.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"Acknowledged as a remarkable accompanist who can cross genres at will, Fabrizio Sotti has also established himself as genuine guitar stylist. Forty is his fifth release as leader, which represents not only a milestone in his age, but a continuous dedication to refining his craft."" Read here.
THE JAZZ WRITER
"Fabrizio Sotti is onto something new and fresh. WithForty (Sotti Entertainment, 2016), the guitarist marks not only a milestone as in how many years he’s been alive, but also a quest for new musical discovery." Read here.
"...all three musicians oftentimes get connived by the arrangement to spiral upwards simultaneously in an ever increasing concentric arc that is as exciting as it is absolutely gorgeous." Read here.
"Particularly striking ... It's nice that each of the pieces of the album has its own face, for Sotti and his partners have found their colors. Finally, it was nice to discover (the first time I listened to Sotto) a new talented guitarist." Read the review in Russian here.
"The sound is personal and the touch is unique. Fabrizio mentioned that this is just the surface of all the ways he wants to explore. It is very well done and we feel like it must be great to turn forty." Read here.
The album’s title track, our selection, reveals a tight unit grooving as one. Slavov walks a bluesy bassline while Mela’s effervescent stick-work maintains the momentum. Sotti’s slinky, blues-drenched leads dart in and out of the rhythmic framework. With hushed intensity, he transitions from one style of playing to the next. Read here.
Influenced by Jim Hall and Pat Metheny among others, Sotti has a beautiful, full-bodied and deep tone that draws your undivided attention and much as his fluid playing does. Supported by Peter Slavov (bass) and Francisco Mela (drums), the performance swings and flows as beautifully as the best works of his idols. Read here.
JAZZ FM BULGARIA
His music is beautiful beyond description, touching and romantic. He tells interesting stories and sends powerful messages with his compositions. Fabrizio Sotti is a rare guitar genius. Listen to the interview and read the rest here.
THE OFFICIAL FERRARI MAGAZINE
The guitarist and producer, who has worked with global boldface names like Whitney Houston, Jennifer Lopez and Tupac, talks Ferrari and all that jazz. Read the feature here.
A SLICE OF JAZZ
Sotti sounds great on all the styles present and is an adept improviser and managing to keep interest over an entire release is no easy feat in itself. And while there is challenging material here, it is an enjoyable release with the joy of Sotti truly shining through. Listen to the live review, starting about 00:18:30 here.
"One of the most versatile and interesting guitarists in circulation!" Read here.
JAZZ VIEWS UK
"His style is based on a very pure clean sound with precise phrasing and logical improvising." Read here.
RAUL DA GAMA
JAZZ DA GAMA
"The Italian-born improviser writes in a style that is at once accessible and piquant, clearly structured yet full of fantasy. Fabrizio Sotti has an uncommon knack for moulding works of vital expressive content." Read here.