Asked to choose one piece from his new album Arancina that he would first recommend to listeners, Nelson pianist David Restivo points to the song Moonlight in Modica.
“It’s a fairly simple tune really, it’s almost like a folk song,” he says. “There’s a lot of very complex music on this recording, but I think when you find just a really simple, poignant melody that takes on a life of its own, I think there’s something really special about that.”
The song is part of the four-movement Sicilian Suite, music that Restivo says is meant to invoke his Sicilian heritage, as is the title of the album. Arancina is a fried rice ball, a typical Sicilian street food.
The album has just been nominated for a Juno Award in the Jazz Album of the Year (Group) category. The Junos are the most prestigious Canadian music awards, similar to the Grammys in the U.S. The awards will be presented on May 15.
Arancina is set in the venerable jazz piano trio tradition – piano, bass, drums – with an added vocalist on two songs.
“The piano trio is such a classic format,” he says. “It’s like the equivalent of the string quartet in European music. I try to say something fresh in that format. That’s the challenge.”
Restivo, who has lived in Nelson since 2019 and teaches at the Selkirk College music program, says he is surprised and pleased about the Juno nomination. It’s a testament to the quality of his band, of whom he speaks with pride and respect.
Joining him on the album are the veteran Canadian bass player Jim Vivian, New York drummer Alyssa Falk, and, on two songs, Restivo’s life-partner the singer Fawn Fritzen.
“I really wanted to document this particular chemistry that I have with these musicians.”
Restivo is a veteran of the Canadian jazz scene, having performed in the 1990s as a member of saxophonist Mike Murley’s quartet and with Grammy Award-winning Rob McConnell’s Boss Brass. Along the way Restivo has performed with, and been taught by, a long list of prominent musicians including singers Jon Hendricks and Mel Torme, saxophonist Charles McPherson and trombonist Curtis Fuller.
“All those people I consider to be mentors in some way. There’s people that I had opportunities to play with in some cases before I was really ready, but you learn from that.”
He says jazz musicians have fewer opportunities for that sort of apprenticeship, even without the pandemic.
“That’s something that has kind of died out in a way. People learn from watching videos and things like that … they don’t really learn necessarily how to play with each other, or play with other musicians and be supportive.
“I had that opportunity as a young 18-19 year old musician, to be taken under the wing of older musicians who are more experienced than me, and that relationship is so important.”
Even though the world has changed, Restivo says he is trying to provide that kind of guidance to students in the Selkirk music program.
“It may not be the same way, but they’re finding a way to express themselves and to come together. They benefit from our experience, and we benefit from their youthful energy, and it’s a beautiful give and take.”