Guitarist and composer Gaetano Letizia’s new album, “Chartreuse,” is full of cool soundscapes and undeniable grooves. “Cool” here refers to the sophistication factor, not the temperature. Letizia has put together the sonic staples for jazz, but does so in a way that demonstrates creativity. This is perfect from a performer who dislikes genre boundaries “Chartreuse” was released Aug. 20, 2021.
About Gaetano Letizia
Letizia is a native of Cleveland, Ohio, where he still lives. His musical roots began to develop at the tender age of 4, when he heard his aunt play the accordion. While a young Letizia could not convince his pragmatic father to invest in the instrument, by the time the musician was in his teens, he had taken matters into his own hands. Sort of. When Letizia was 15, he heard Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze.” His enthusiasm for the song, and perhaps for rock music in general, moved his father to buy him an electric guitar. The catch? The teen would have the best guitar teacher in town. The experience led Letizia to join a rock band at 17, and to major in both music and business management at Kent State University.
By the time he was 20 years old, Letizia was taking guitar lessons from George Benson, who at the time was at the beginning of his career. After studying at Kent State, Letizia earned a scholarship to study at the Baldwin-Wallace, Conservatory of Music. There, he majored in classical guitar and composition. During his post-secondary education Letizia played in rock bands. Once his education was complete, he joined a band called Tiny Alice which had a national following for a while. Letizia’s talent was quickly outpacing that of most of his peers. His talent had developed to the point that he was compared to rock great Joe Walsh. However, when Letizia was offered a contract to play rock music, he turned it down. He wanted to play jazz.
Even while playing a variety of music, Letizia still worked in his father’s business. His father had invented a material for permanently filling potholes. By 2010, Letizia had released a blues album in 2010. This followed a blues album called “The Tom Letizia Album” (his friends call him Tom). The blues album was released in 1981. In 2015, Letizia released a jazz trio CD called “Froggy & the Toads.”
“Chartreuse” by Gaetano Letizia
In so many ways, “Chartreuse” is a beautiful album. The soundscape is not necessarily gentle, but it does sound great. The influences from a variety of genres can be heard on every track, and audiences can hear why Leitiza has the reputation he does.
The impeccable rhythms of songs like the title track and “Genrecide” feel groove-oriented and they keep listeners engaged and unable to assume what comes next. The title track has a hearty, but spry guitar opening that soon mixes with horn motifs against a backdrop of drums that mix well without overpowering. There is a danceable to the song that adds to its beauty. The guitar showcase is a nice touch.
“Genrecide” is worth appreciating for its title alone. For a performer who dislikes labels, the title is no surprise, really. While slower-paced than the title track, there is an obvious mix of jazz and reggae inflection in the rhythms. The guitar here takes on a different quality. There is a saxophone showcase that is throaty and smooth. Like all the showcases on the album, the work is seamless. No one instrument or instrument group overwhelms the overall feel of the song.
“Chartreuse” is exciting for a variety of reasons. The eventual sound and the influences that went into making it are just two of those reasons. Understanding Letizia’s backstory, while not always necessary for appreciating music, is part of the fun of “Chartreuse.” Another reason to keep “Chartreuse” on repeat is that there are no bad songs. The album sounds like a classic already.