The most recognizable tunes on saxophonist Cory Weeds latest, O Sole Mio! Music from the Motherland, are synonymous with the great Italian tenors of the 20th century. Which is ostensibly curious. Weeds isn’t an opera star; he’s a saxophonist. And most of the time his go-to instrument isn’t even the tenor but the alto.
If there’s one country he’s come to be associated with it’s Canada, not Italy. Weeds has become our neighbor to the north’s most prominent jazz ambassador as both musician and founder of the Vancouver-based record label Cellar Live. The “I” word does follow him around frequently, but it’s not “Italian,” it’s “impresario.”
Weeds produced and played on pianist Antonio Ciacca’s Volare, The Italian American Songbook (2016). That must have planted a seed because in addition to jazz takes on Neopolitan operatic classics like “O Sole Mio” and “Torna a Surriento,” Weeds presents new, soul-jazzy arrangements of tunes written by some of his favorite Italian American musicians.
Henry Mancini, Pat Martino, and Chick Corea are among those who make the cut. As is Nino Rota. His “Speak Softly, Love,” better known as the theme from The Godfather, is presented as a bossa nova arrangement anchored by a Hammond B3 organ. It only sounds blasphemous before you listen to it—then it all makes perfect sense.
Much of this is owing to Weeds’ compatriots here, who bring out the latent jazz that’s lived in these compositions all along.