Perfect World opens with an ebullient welcome as we hear Felice Clemente’s slippery-smooth soprano statement of the melody on his own "African Sea," accompanied only by Valerio Della Fonte’s bass riff. A few beats later and Gregory Hutchinson’s drums and Danny Grissett’s piano jump in to the fun. It’s as if Clemente is throwing open the door on a party and inviting you in.
Clemente is a classically-trained Italian musician who has found his jazz voice. While mastering clarinet at the G. Verdi Music Conservatory in Milan, he was also learning jazz with a trio of fellow Italian sax men. Whether by his classical training or good fortune, Clemente has a beautiful rich tone on soprano and tenor as well as excellent intonation.
Of the nine tunes on Clemente’s first session with Picanto Records, five are his originals. Bassist Della Fonte contributes two of his own, one of Clemente’s sax mentors Tino Tracanna offers another, and the ninth tune comes from the Argentinean tour-de-force of tango music, Astor Piazolla. Clemente’s writing is solid, mostly following traditional song structures that sound fresh but familiar. He delivers on a nice range of mood - from the bounce of "African Sea" to the earthy ballad "My Secret Desire," from the slowly swinging groove of "Deep Night" to the more progressive "Inner Strength."
The trio playing behind, with, and in front of Clemente is strong. Gregory Hutchinson is a ringer on the drums; his credits include playing with the likes of Eric Reed, Joe Henderson, Roy Hargrove, Joshua Redman, Ray Brown, Arturo Sandoval, and a long list of others. Danny Grissett’s piano solos are lyrical, his right hand frequently sounding like a horn solo while comping himself with his left. Valerio Della Fonte covers the bass work confidently.
Perfect World is a wonderful introduction to Felice Clemente. Keep your ear on him; you’re bound to hear more good jazz music from his pen and his horns in the years to come.