Sydney guitarist and composer Nic Vardanega’s Inverno is a promising debut from a young player who has come up learning and playing among that city’s top musicians. There is no doubt that he is going to be someone to watch in his forthcoming career. Inverno, meaning winter in Italian, is a pleasurable listen but surely just a sign of what is to come from this wonderful guitarist.
For a first recording this album is a remarkable success. There is a very strong vision in the music, which belies the leader’s youth. The compositions are thoughtful, and not over-done, but there is a certain hesitation present. The writing does seem a little careful, and sometimes the improvisations lack flow and forward momentum as Vardanega reaches, perhaps too consciously, for just a few too many chord tones on non-threatening down beats, stating the harmony with a careful sense of social acceptability. I would like to hear more risk-taking at the edges of these tunes, and after hearing him I feel that Vardanega is an adventurous sort in the right context. The band also doesn’t always quite lock in, making me wonder how much time they had to put this together. However, it is obvious they all are marvellous players, and most of the members will be known to those aware of the Sydney Jazz scene as consummate instrumentalists in their own right. This is a group that would really be worth checking out live.
The highlight of this recording for me is James “Pug” Waples’ drums, which are consistently spacious and melodic with a certain laid-back quality and tonal warmth that really works beautifully. He sets up a wonderful cushion for the ensemble from the outset and creates a consistent, reserved energy throughout the recording. Worth noting also is Vardanega’s guitar tone, which is brilliantly colourful, varying throughout the album. Interestingly, it is his acoustic playing on the bossa-esque Venetian Sunset, where he sounds relaxed and seems most in his comfort zone.
This is a record most certainly worth buying. Vardanega proves himself to be one of an increasingly large stable of incredibly musical players coming out of Sydney. It is a real challenge for a musician to make their first recording, and there is something joyous about hearing the product of such an emergence. My advice: buy this record and hear the genesis of a thoughtful and measured player, mature beyond his years, who has a lot of great music ahead of him.