When you hear what sounds like two guitars playing together and then discover there’s only one, you can be pretty sure it’s in the hands of Pasquale Grasso. It is generally agreed that this 33-year-old Italian virtuoso, now resident in New York, has raised guitar technique to a new and terrifyingly high level. Terrifying, that is, to other guitarists who have been goggling at a series of video clips and digital-only recordings over the past few months. Now here’s something for the rest of us, a whole album of Duke Ellington tunes.
In the very first minute of the first track, It Don’t Mean a Thing, I had to remind myself that the melody, orchestral accompaniment and sundry flourishes were all the simultaneous work of one man on six strings. Grasso’s improvised solo is quite brilliant, too. The slow ballads with their subtle harmonies are tastefully restrained, while I have never heard Cotton Tail taken as fast as it is here. There are guest singers Samara Joy and Sheila Jordan and, on most tracks, drummer Keith Balla and bassist Ari Roland, who contributes an impossibly intricate solo with the bow.