Corrado Rustici’s remarkable career has included playing with and producing some of the greatest and most popular musicians of the 20th century, ranging from Whitney Houston, Luciano Pavarotti, and Herbie Hancock, to Miles Davis, Elton John and Aretha Franklin to the biggest italian stars (Zucchero, Elisa, Francesco De Gregori, Claudio Baglioni, Andrea Bocelli, Negramaro and Luciano Ligabue).
The 21st century has seen him mostly in his role as producer, as he continues to put out a string of number 1 hits on the Italian charts, something he’s been doing for over three decades. In fact, his career as a producer has been so successful, one might almost overlook the fact that Rustici is also a wildly original virtuoso guitarist who has set himself the goal of playing integral music.
Rustici the guitarist emerged in Naples Italy the mid-seventies and went on to play in a number of progressive and jazz-rock groups, most notably Cervello and Nova, a group that took Rustici to England and then the US, and at times included Narada Michael Walden, Phil Collins, Zakir Hussein and Percy Jones. The material on this live recording spans Rustici’s career, with the songs Vimana and Princess and the frog dating back to the Nova days, whereas Tantrum to Blind can be found on his most recent solo effort, Deconstruction of Postmodern Musician where he is joined by Allan Holdsworth for a memorable duet.
The three musicians featured on this recording, Corrado Rustici, drummer Steve Smith (Journey, Steps Ahead, Vital Information) and keyboardist/producer Peter Vettese (Jethro Tull, Annie Lennox, Seal)—have such an enormous wealth of experience behind them, one wonders how they might even begin to integrate it into one performance. One answer is in this live concert: with an undoubtedly muscular, playful, no holds barred performance that allows these musicians to display their virtuosity in service of the music, while also reminding us of their ability to weave subtle latticeworks of fragile beauty.
100 famous notes is notable for an introduction in which Vettese conjures up string quartets and an oboe from his keyboards, leading into Rustici’s solo, which showcases his signature combination of melodic, singable lines alternating with blistering passages of hair-raising speed.
Years as Most Valuable Players in recording studios all over the world has not slowed these musicians down, dulled their senses, or led them to play studio competent-but-safe. On the contrary, in this live context we find them truly ‘blooming and blazing,’ seamlessly integrating a wide range of grooves, atmospheres, and styles, and taking risks left right and center, led by Rustici’s intense and passionate playing.
Rustici’s command of the guitar is showcased with fluid legato runs as well as blazing picking, always with his own sound and identity. At times he uses a majestic saxophone-like tone, creating haunting, otherworldly melodies filled with deep longing. Drummer Steve Smith, a long-time associate of Rustici’s, keeps the grooves flowing and intense. He contributes a riveting solo on Loud Cloud that includes Indian vocal percussion, or Konokkol. The Indian theme is picked up again in Sushumna’s dance, an uptempo scorcher which includes Peter Vettese’s “bass guitar” solo. Like an old-fashioned organ trio, there is no bass player in this band. Keyboard player Peter Vettese covers the bass parts with great aplomb, and also provides lush pads and inspired solos. The beautiful “Chiudi gli Occhi,” is the only track featuring Rustici’s strong and evocative vocals, while Spirals of Light is a feature for Vettese’s sensitive keyboard playing.
As we listen to this powerful complex music, perhaps we begin to understand some of the goals of Rustici’s vision of integral music. At minimum it is an integration of the extensive, lived experience of these musicians working in their planetary context, drawing an all the myriad ideas, influences, and traditions they are exposed to, and channeling this remarkable wealth in the heat of the moment with the utmost discipline and the greatest abandon. And that is something truly worth listening to.