The ingenious pianist and composer Michael Ragonese embarks on an audacious set of fervent jazz trio pieces on his second album, "Stracci" (pronounced stra-chi). On this mesmerizing collection, Ragonese pays homage to his Italian American roots through a riveting collection of six original compositions and two revered jazz standards, all elegantly woven together in an enchanting trio setting.
"Stracci" stands as a dazzling follow up to Ragonese's growth since his debut, "Day to Day," which took the scene by storm in 2019. Drenched in the soulful essence of his heritage, Ragonese conjures a musical landscape that thrills the senses and captures the heart. The allure of his compositions lies in their ability to be both daringly innovative and irresistibly melodic. The songs resonate with impassioned excitement while retaining a lyrical accessibility, all while vividly emanating his creative artistry.
While Ragonese's path might seem short in years, his pianistic odyssey spans an impressive quarter-century, commencing at the tender age of six. Rooted in Los Angeles, he imbibed the classical notes for almost a decade, a heritage bestowed by his mother who was not just a singer, guitarist, and songwriter, but a prominent figure in the Southern California Catholic music circuit. However, the chains of classical restraint began to chafe, and Ragonese's affinity for the freewheeling nature of jazz found its catalytic moment through the soulful musings of Bill Evans. The enchantment was instant, and the path became ever so clear.
Having honed his craft at the prestigious Cal State Northridge, Ragonese's musical voyage transformed him into a sought-after accompanist, gracing the stages and records of luminaries like Barbra Streisand, Dave Koz, and Mark Turner, among a glowing constellation of others. As his star ascended, Ragonese's dedication to fostering emerging talent bore fruit in the creation of the Rags School of Music, a nurturing sanctuary for budding artists.
"Stracci" marks a resplendent turning point. Unlike his debut, where horns took center stage, this album thrusts Ragonese's inventive piano prowess and compositions to the forefront. With the deft Mark Ferber, a drummer with over 200 albums to his credit, and the exceptional Italian bass virtuoso Luca Alemanno, whose journey at the Thelonious Monk Institute has been a testament to his skill, Ragonese crafts an entrancing trio. Alemanno's melodious basslines danced in Ragonese's debut and now converge anew, echoing their musical camaraderie.
Ragonese's connection with Alemanno, sparked at the Thelonious Monk Institute, culminated in a title with double significance. "Stracci," the Italian term for "rags," reflects not just Ragonese's nickname, but also the threadbare elegance of his compositions. His influences, though respectful of jazz's lineage, are contemporarily rooted, drawing inspiration from luminaries like Vardan Ovsepian, Josh Nelson, and the classical fusion emanating from Brad Mehldau.
The album's opener, a masterful rendition of Miles Davis' "Solar," embodies Ragonese's signature flair, imbuing the timeless composition with a modern edge. "I'll Be Seeing You," a beloved standard, remains untouched by arrangement, a nod to its timeless allure. Ragonese's own compositions on "Stracci" traverse a rich spectrum, from the classical inception of "Escape" to the deeply poignant "In Attesa," conveying his year-long recovery after a severe motorcycle accident. "Tides of Tomorrow Part 1" and "Part 2" unfold as an interconnected suite, blending melancholic melodies and enigmatic rhythms. The rain-kissed notes of "La Poggia" evoke the pitter-patter of droplets, while the album crescendos to a close with the intricate rhythms of "Copycat," a triumphant and swinging end to a fabulous release. Without any doubt, Michael Ragonese's "Stracci" is an exhilarating contribution to the ever-evolving jazz piano trio legacy.
Released August 25, 2023.
CD, Vinyl, and Digital Download, Also available on Streamings Services.