Born in Naples, educated in New York and now residing in Paris, drummer Francesco Ciniglio combines spotless drumming facility with substantial compositional flair, and has the capacity to move, reflect and express through his music. An in-demand sideman, Ciniglio has collaborated with Wynton Marsalis, Shai Maestro, Aaron Parks, Dayna Stephens, Seamus Blake and Tony Tixier.
Following his debut solo release (Wood, with Parks and Joe Sanders), Ciniglio returns as leader for his Whirlwind debut, The Locomotive Suite, a set of compositions for sextet that combine a personal metaphor of resilience with snapshots of his formative familial influences. Barcelona- based Raynald Colom (trumpet), fellow Paris emigrée Matt Chalk (alto) and Matteo Pastorino (bass clarinet) take the frontline duties, with Frenchman Alexis Valet on vibraphone and rising star Felix Moseholm on double bass.
“It’s a straight metaphor,” says Ciniglio of the suite. “Every one of us should be our own locomotive, sturdy and reliable, because crazy times can come; if we don't react right away, and don't keep going, we're going to sink.” Composed for sextet, the collection began as reflections on the Ciniglio’s intense experiences of New York. They found another life in Paris and were recorded in May 2020 during one of the city’s brief lockdown respites, which saw the ensemble descend on the capital from all across Europe.
The suite is a collection of substantial, knotty harmonies, rhythmic shifts and spacious textures. But it also experiments internally, with chordal horn textures giving bass and vibraphone more melodic freedom. The unusual scoring is inspired by the soundworlds of Pat Metheny and Ben van Gelder, bridging the gap between music for large ensemble and harmonically focused trio music. Or, as Ciniglio puts it, it’s all about "finding an ensemble that’s not too big or small.”
The Locomotive Suite expands on that resilient ‘locomotive’ metaphor, coupled with ‘wagons’ – ‘personal experiences that nobody can take away from you’. The opener ‘Laura Martina’ is dedicated to Ciniglio’s late grandmother, a charismatic entertainer who helped raise him – a warm chorale sits above a pulsating drum texture. The darting rhythms of ‘Locomotive’ are the most closely related to train travel, but are actually derived from the Neapolitan tarantellas of his youth. Constructed in a series of windows, each new section is “a landscape which a train might pass through.” ‘Arlene’s March’ trots towards the Lower East Side and Arlene’s Grocery, famous for its hip-hop jam nights. Three personal postcards follow (‘Capitano’ for his Dad, ‘Self-Made Man’ for his Neapolitan ‘Uncle’ who chased the American Dream, and ‘The Turtle’, a tender dedication to bassist Moseholm), followed by two darker pieces (‘Concern in the Background’ and ‘945 St Nicholas Avenue’), before the sweetly melancholic duet ‘Mon Ange’ aptly ends the album with, and in, love.
“This album is all about movement – getting a train here, marching there,” summarises Ciniglio. But it also reflects on people and places, and on the personal growth that helps make The Locomotive Suite a significant compositional statement.