CAMBRIDGE - If anyone can make the accordion hip - and that's a tall order - it just might be Cory Pesaturo.
Pesaturo, a 21-year-old senior at New England Conservatory, is the most impressive jazz accordionist these ears have ever heard. Perhaps that's because many jazz musicians who play accordion use it as a gimmick or to give their jazz Mediterranean accents. Pesaturo makes the instrument sound as natural and native to jazz as the saxophone or trumpet.
Tuesday night he had his debut at Ryles, backed by the local jazz institution known as the Fringe (saxophonist George Garzone, drummer Bob Gullotti, and bassist Hogyu Hwang). Although Garzone shared the front line with Pesaturo, and at times overpowered him, Pesaturo demonstrated that his accordion is no gimmick. As his father told me before the show, young Mr. Pesaturo is aiming to bring some respect to the often-maligned instrument. (Then he told me no accordion jokes were allowed. Then he told me one.)
Hair slicked back, dressed formally in black slacks, white shirt, and black vest, Pesaturo launched into a pulse-quickening take of "What Is This Thing Called Love," his right hand racing up and down the keys, and then he relaxed into the soft bossa nova of "Meditations." Smooth arpeggios fluttered from his fingers while Garzone blew phrases that would have made Stan Getz swoon.
Pesaturo's wild edge revealed itself during a couple of Coltrane numbers, "Impressions" and "Mr. P.C.," his approach growing almost violent as he traded fours with Garzone, and he led the group through an original, "Badge," an off-kilter composition that sounded much influenced by Thelonious Monk's songbook.
The second set was wilder, as Pesaturo traded the acoustic accordion for a digital model made by Roland that gave him a wider variety of voices. It sounded like a Hammond B3 organ on his rollicking take of "Caravan," and like both piano (the keys) and upright bass (the buttons) during his one solo, the ballad "All the Things You Are." The quartet finished with a bang, churning out a ridiculously energetic version of "Cherokee."
We'll surely be hearing more from Mr. C.P.
Steve Greenlee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.