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Italian guitarist Pasqualo Grasso spent most of the pandemic putting out solo digital releases, the kind easy to make at home, but hit the CD racks again last year with the Duke Ellington tribute Pasqualo Plays Duke. He continues his journey through pre-hard bop jazz with Be-Bop!, concentrating on the work of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. Joined by the swinging rhythm section of bassist Ari Roland and drummer Keith Balla, Grasso puts his prodigious technique to the service of beloved Gillespie classics (“A Night in Tunisia,” “Be-Bop”), demanding Parker standards (“Ornithology,” “Quasimodo”) and Bird/Diz collaborations (“Groovin’ High,” “Shaw ‘Nuff”) like he was born to it. Influenced more by horn and piano players than his fellow six-stringers, Grasso speeds through difficult lines and extended solos as if no one ever told him any of this was hard to pull off, leading to some jaw-dropping moments on nearly every song. While Grasso burns up the fretboard on most of the cuts, he also takes a break now and then, dipping into Thelonious Monk’s “Ruby, My Dear,” inviting singer Samara Joy to croon the Gillespie-associated “I’m a Mess,” and laying down the resplendent original ballad “Lamento Della Campagnia.” Though a virtuoso player, Grasso clearly has a deep love for these tunes, and understands how to balance speed demon licks with a keen and soulful melodic touch. Be-bop has always been known for its complexity as much as for its musicality, and Grasso is more than up to the challenge of doing it justice.
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