Wait a minute…Puccini, one of the original opera gods, covered on just sax and piano??? Man, what a great idea! The moment I saw the title, I thought “Why hasn’t anyone done this before?”. The CD’s promo lit echoed my notion, naming Billy Strayhorn’s Lush Life and Monk’s Round Midnight as just two compositions having much in common with some of Puccini’s best and most popular work. Give whoever wrote that passage a cigar because it’s the perfect equation, algebra in C flat minor. However, it was no less a person than pianist Eric Olsen’s opera singer wife, Pamela Olsen, who noted that Lou Caimano’s sax work reminded her very strongly of fellow singers, and, voila!, Dyad was born.
Further mention is made of Puccini’s Otis Redding soulfulness and Ellingtonian lyricality, with more than a little of Tadd Dameron’s lush and unapologetic penchant for beautiful passages. What was forgotten, though, was the sense of power Puccini could also evoke when the urge came knocking on the door, and that shines through no sooner than the second cut, Ch’ella mi Creda, where Caimano’s vaulting saxophonic ascent into the clouds suddenly breaks into that keyboard Dameronian beauty with just a bit of Joplin added for period flavor. However, the breathtaking offset of the follower, the Act 1 Overture from Madama Butterfly, will send you reeling. In a surprisingly serial arrangement, Caimano and Olsen chase each other until what I thought was a dub of the sax in low tones arises…but is in reality Olsen’s masterfully inflected right hand. As enchanting as Caimano is here, it’s Olsen who truly impresses, even to the extent of a Holstianly jazzy follow-through on the extension of that third voice.
Un Bel Di, though, also from Butterfly, turns this around, a decidedly darker song wrapped around romantic threnody, moody but with restrained verve, almost ambiguous but delicious. The interpretation is this time Caimano’s, and, keeping within the classicalist arena, the tableau sent me back to a killer rendition a BBC orchestra had executed of Rachmaninoff’s Isle of the Deadyears ago, and ol’ Sergei woulda pawned his eyeteeth to have written this and inserted it as a pool of Byronic reflection in that magnum opus. Ah, but if I go much further into this disc, I’ll have to be writing an 10-page essay and will thus be giving away the store, so, no, instead, you must give this a listen, as it’s one of those releases in which words fail.