THE DOZENS: ITALIAN JAZZ by Thierry Quénum

Italy

From its American origins, jazz has spread all over the world. In the process, the music has revealed not just its popularity, but also its adaptability to new surroundings. Just as jazz assimilated different musical influences within the United States, coming to a rapprochement with blues, pop tunes and other prevailing styles, it also found ways of integrating itself into the specific cultural circumstances when it traveled to new locales. As a result, jazz overseas is not just a repetition of jazz in its native land, but provides a constant refreshing and expansion of the art form.

So each country is a different story, with something new to tell us about jazz music. Below we take a survey of jazz in Italy, encapsulating in twelve tracks this rich Mediterranean perspective on the music.


Antonello Salis: Graffio di Costa

Track

Graffio di Costa

Artist

Antonello Salis (piano)

CD

Pianosolo (CAM Jazz)

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Musicians:

Antonello Salis (piano).

Recorded: Cavalicco, Italy, December 1-2, 2005

Albumcoverantonellosalis-pianosolo

Rating: 92/100 (learn more)

Once you've recovered from listening to Antonello Salis for the first time (it's stunning on record, but it's killing in concert), the thing that will finish leaving you dumbfounded is to learn that he doesn't even have a piano at home. But Salis, who was born and still lives in Sardinia (an island off the Italian Mediterranean coast) and also plays accordion, is so full of music that he hardly needs to practice on any instrument to exude musicianship. This short, athletic, dark-skinned man is so replete with energy that he may sometimes look and sound restless. But on this CD where he devotes himself to the piano, he displays an appalling mastery of the instrument's many nuances and a huge sense of construction, melody and rhythm. Listening to this track, it's easy to understand why so many other musicians, from his fellow Sardinian Paolo Fresu to Joey Baron, French accordionist Richard Galliano or German pianist Jens Thomas, have wanted to perform with him. Salis is definitely unique and, both as a musician and as a person, larger than life.

Reviewer: Thierry Quénum


Italian Instabile Orchestra: Il Maestro Muratore

Track

Il Maestro Muratore

Group

Italian Instabile Orchestra

CD

Skies of Europe (ECM)

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Musicians:

Pino Minafra, Alberto Mandarini, Guido Mazzon (trumpets), Giancarlo Schiaffini (trombone, tuba), Lauro Rossi, Sebi Tramontana (trombones), Martin Mayes (French horn, mellophone), Mario Schiano (alto & soprano saxes), Eugenio Colombo (alto & soprano saxes, flute), Gianluigi Trovesi (alto sax, alto clarinet, bass clarinet), Carlo Actis Dato (tenor & baritone saxes, bass clarinet), Daniele Cavallanti (tenor & baritone saxes), Renato Geremia (violin), Paolo Damiani (cello), Bruno Tommaso (bass), Tiziano Tononi (drums, percussion), Vicenzo Mazzone (tympani, drums, percussion)

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Composed by Bruno Tommaso

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Recorded: Florence, Italy, May 1994

Albumcoveritalianinstabileorchestra-skiesofeurope

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

Italy, which is often noted for its inability to achieve political unity, has nevertheless managed to produce an 18-piece orchestra whose members are almost all leaders of their own bands. No ordinary orchestra, then. The Italian Instabile Orchestra (whose personnel, as the name suggests, is liable to swell and evolve) was from its inception one of Europe's most stimulating large modern bands. This track ("The Master Mason" in English) shows the Instabile Orchestra at its arguably best period, displaying typically Mediterranean melodic inspiration on a modal 3/4 vamp arranged in a simple, efficient way. Another of Instabile's assets was that most of its members were potentially raunchy, free improvisers, be they veterans such as Gaslini, Schiano and Trovesi or younger musicians such as Rossi or Actis Dato. Nowadays the Instabile seldom plays, but this album (whose title clearly alludes to Ornette Coleman's Skies of America) is a milestone, set by master builders not only in the history of Italian jazz, but of European jazz at large.

Reviewer: Thierry Quénum


Maria Pia De Vito: Eucharisto Soi

Track

Eucharisto Soi

Artist

CD

Phon (Egea)

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Musicians:

Maria Pia De Vito (vocals),

Gianluigi Trovesi (alto clarinet), Enzo Pietropaoli (bass), Federico Sanesi (tabla)

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Composed by Maria Pia De Vito

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Recorded: Perugia, Italy, 1998

Albumcoveritalianmariapiadevito-phon

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

Born in Naples, Southern Italy, a crucible of Mediterranean folk and classical influences, Maria Pia De Vito is one of the Peninsula's great voices and has frequently worked with such other European musicians as British pianist John Taylor, Belgian singer David Linx or Dutch cellist Ernst Reijseger. Here she uses lyrics from an apocryphal gospel to build a song that sounds more Indian than Italian, polytheist than Christian. But phon the voice in ancient Greek has always and universally been used to communicate with the divine, and De Vito certainly isn't one to restrict her vocal abilities to the Mediterranean orb. Supported mainly by tabla, bass and the very vocal-like sound of Trovesi's alto clarinet, she creates an utterly original mood, beyond the borders of tradition and modernity.

Reviewer: Thierry Quénum


Franco D'Andrea: Old Jazz

Track

Old Jazz

Artist

Franco D'Andrea (piano)

CD

Kick Off (Red Records)

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Musicians:

Franco D'Andrea (piano),

Bruno Tommaso (bass), Roberto Gatto (drums)

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Composed by Franco D’Andrea

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Recorded: Rome, Italy, April 14, 1988

Albumcoverfrancodandrea-kickoff

Rating: 92/100 (learn more)

It's hard to find a European musician who's absorbed the history of jazz piano and jazz at large, for that matter as thoroughly as Franco D'Andrea. His recent renditions of Ellington's or Monk's works are top-rank recordings, and he has managed to express his own personality both within and outside the boundaries of the classic-to-bop style. One can then understand that the title of this witty tune he penned is partly ironical, as are the quotations of bop clichs that spring here and there from D'Andrea's fingers. These may in fact be the only clues, during a blindfold test, to the fact that this trio is composed entirely of Europeans, all Italian in fact. Actually they have played with so many American musicians residing in or touring through their country that they have learned to speak the standard jazz language without accent. They even often prove more inventive in that idiom than some native speakers, and don't hesitate to foray beyond its borders when they feel restricted by them. Besides, all three are top-level instrumentalists and highly creative improvisers. Who can beat that, on either side of the Atlantic?

Reviewer: Thierry Quénum


Pietro Tonolo & Danilo Rea: Ah, cosa non stato sotto la luna

Track

Ah, cosa non stato sotto la luna

Artist

Pietro Tonolo (tenor sax) and Danilo Rea (piano)

CD

Sotto la Luna

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Musicians:

Pietro Tonolo (tenor sax), Danilo Rea (piano).

Composed by Pietro Tonolo & Danilo Rea

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Recorded: Perugia, Italy, July 18, 1998

Albumcoverdanilorea-pietrotonolo-sottolaluna

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

They are not well known beyond the borders of their native country (although Tonolo has played with the likes of Gil Evans, Paul Motian and Gil Goldstein, and Rea with Lee Konitz, Chet Baker and Aldo Romano), but Tonolo & Rea are celebrities in Italy. It doesn't take more than a few bars played by this duo to hear why. Where do you find a tenor player with a mellower yet still powerful sound? Where do you find a pianist with such touch and harmonic sensitivity? What's also fascinating is that, as with many other Italian musicians, lyricism seems to come naturally to this pair. They can pen a tune with all the characteristics of a popular Italian melody, such as this track, yet never sound corny when they tackle it, whether playing the theme or improvising countermelodies. That's what one calls good taste. And, even if it also exists in other spheres (cooking, wine, clothes, etc.), you've got a good chance to find it aplenty within a triangle that encompasses Turin, Naples and Venice.

Reviewer: Thierry Quénum


Enrico Rava: Visions

Track

Visions

Artist

Enrico Rava (trumpet)

CD

Full of Life (CAM Jazz)

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Musicians:

Enrico Rava (trumpet),

Javier Girotto (baritone sax), Ares Tavolazzi (bass), Fabrizio Sferra (drums)

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Composed by Enrico Rava

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Recorded: Cavalicco, Italy, November 11-12, 2002

Albumcoverenricorava-fulloflife

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

In Italy, jazz musicians and connoisseurs alike call Enrico Rava "maestro," and there are reasons for that. Beside his impressive career, both inside and outside Italy, Rava has always enlisted younger musicians to form new groups and explore new grounds, as with this pianoless quartet that refers more to the Gerry Mulligan/Chet Baker band than to the Ornette Coleman/Don Cherry association. Of course, the presence of Argentinean-born baritone saxophonist Javier Girotto is instrumental in this comparison. Some songs even sound almost as if they could belong to the Mulligan/Baker repertoire, but the most interesting ones are those, such as this track, that both bring the cool aesthetic into the new century and decentralize it towards the Old Continent. Apart from being a great musician, Rava has always been a true lover of the jazz tradition, from Bix Beiderbecke to Don Cherry. No wonder he can help himself whenever he wants to the heap of stylistic influences he has absorbed over the years, yet always sound like today, and like himself.

Reviewer: Thierry Quénum


Stefano Bollani: Giroconlon

Track

Giroconlon

Artist

Stefano Bollani (piano)

CD

Smt Smt (Label Bleu)

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Musicians:

Stefano Bollani (piano).

Composed by Stefano Bollani

.

Recorded: Montevarchi, Italy, May 19-21, 2003

Albumcoverstefanobollani-smtSmt

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

Stefano Bollani is an atypical musician, and it would be totally irrelevant to reduce him to his Italian origins, first because the melody is rarely the primal ingredient of his music. When it is, whether he pens it or plays a Beatles song or a jazz standard, he often makes it sound like an old-fashioned song used as a basis for rhythmic and harmonic invention. Here he starts with a strong left hand and a brisk right one, and the rhythmic interplay between the two caries on until a pop-songlike harmony emerges. Bollani has studied classical music thoroughly (he often borrows from Prokofiev) and has often supported pop singers before jazz took over. He is one of the young virtuosos who, mostly on the European side of the Atlantic, have a huge classical, pop and jazz culture and feel free to draw from it to shape new forms. In a country where the bop influence is still very strong, his evolution follows a very personal and unpredictable path.

Reviewer: Thierry Quénum


Gabriele Mirabassi: Madrugadero

Track

Madrugadero

Artist

Gabriele Mirabassi (clarinet)

CD

Lo Stortino (Egea)

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Musicians:

Gabriele Mirabassi (clarinet),

Luciano Biondini (accordion), Michel Godard (tuba), Francesco D’Auria (percussion)

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Composed by Gabriele Mirabassi

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Recorded: Spello, Italy, May 22, 2000

Albumcovergabrielemirabassi-lostortino

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

Some will argue that Gabriele Mirabassi is not really a jazz musician, and to a certain extent they are right. His straight sound and tone still bear the mark of his breeding as a classical virtuoso, and he doesn't show any influence from such historical players as Barney Bigard or Benny Goodman. But then, his instrument has played such a small role in jazz's evolution over the past half century that it has allowed strong individuals with few strings attached to appear, at least in Europe. Indeed, Mirabassi mostly plays with Europeans, except for Lebanese oud player Rabih Abou-Khalil, who by the way lives in Germany. On this record Mirabassi mostly plays his own tunes with his own group, an unconventional Italian-French quartet. This track sounds like a folk tune, and some purists may again doubt its qualification as jazz. But the way the four players carry this tune from a linear melodic unison between accordion and clarinet to a free rubato exploration around the tuba's growls has definitely more to do with jazz improvisation than with any other musical genre. This bears witness to Mirabassi's open mind and to the Europeans' open vision of today's jazz.

Reviewer: Thierry Quénum


Gianluigi Trovesi: Now I Can

Track

Now I Can

Artist

Gianluigi Trovesi (bass clarinet)

CD

From G to G (Soul Note)

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Musicians:

Gianluigi Trovesi (bass clarinet),

Pino Minafra (trumpet, vocals), Rodolfo Migliardi (trombone, tuba), Marco Remondini (cello), Roberto Bonati, Marco Micheli (basses), Vittorio Marinoni (drums), Fulvio Maras (percussion)

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Composed by Gianluigi Trovesi

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Recorded: Milan, May 6-9, 1992

Albumcovergianluigitrovesi-fromgtog

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

Gianluigi Trovesi is not only a great saxophone and clarinet player and one of the main historical figures of Italian Jazz in the last 40 years, he is also a consummate composer and arranger, and a fine humorist. This track bears witness to all the above in its dramatic construction (with a melodic theme hidden in the middle of a riff-based structure), its instrumentation (with the percussion and toys playing a high-pitched humoristic punctuation to the ensembles and solos by low-register instruments), the way it all swings in an infectious slow dancing manner, and finally the hilarious intrusion of Pino Minafra, grumbling some indescribable babble which might be the closest you can get to Southern Italian rap. Trovesi has had several midsize ensembles since '92 with rock, folk and baroque influences to them, but this one best shows the joyous side of his music. Some musicologist may trace this trend back to the old Italian musical tradition of scherzo, which literally means "joke" a tradition that today's non-Italian musicians often seem unaware of.

Reviewer: Thierry Quénum


Paolo Fresu: Si Dolce il Tormento

Track

Si Dolce il Tormento

Artist

Paolo Fresu (trumpet)

CD

Metamorfosi (BMG)

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Musicians:

Paolo Fresu (trumpet),

Antonello Salis (accordion), Nguyn L (guitar), Furio Di Castri (bass), Roberto Gatto (drums)

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Composed by Claudio Monteverdi

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Recorded: Rubiera, Italy, December 7-10, 1998

Albumcoverpaolofresu-metamorfosi

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

The Monteverdi madrigal that Paolo Fresu tackles here was composed more than three centuries before any member of Fresu's Angel Quartet (plus 1 on this track) was born. This may lead the listener to meditate on the fact that Italian musicians definitely have their own treasure of melodies and have no problem dealing with it in whatever idiom. Indeed, when Monteverdi was alive none of the instruments played here existed in its actual form, except for the bass. Still, the vocal quality of Fresu's trumpet fits the melody so neatly that he hardly needs to improvise on it. L's guitar sound is obviously far from the baroque lute, but his playing is totally relevant to the emotional quality of the music. Behind them, the support that Di Castri and Gatto bring (the latter with subtle and highly melodic brushes) is just perfect, and Salis's accordion adds its voice in a most discreet manner. If this is the sweet (dolce) torment (tormento) that Monteverdi talked about in his title, let's pray that these "angels" may inflict it on us as long as possible. By all means!

Reviewer: Thierry Quénum


Stefano Battaglia: Our Circular Song

Track

Our Circular Song

Artist

CD

Raccolto (ECM)

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Musicians:

Stefano Battaglia (piano),

Giovanni Maier (bass), Michele Rabbia (percussion)

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Composed by Stefano Battaglia, Giovanni Maier & Michele Rabbia

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Recorded: Udine, Italy, September 2003

Albumcoverstefanobattaglia-raccolto

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

Stefano Battaglia is exactly the opposite of a stereotypical extroverted Italian musician. In fact he says he was unsurprised when Manfred Eicher invited him to record for the ECM label, since he was already deep into the aesthetic of the German producer renowned for his so-called "Nordic sound." But in fact, though he was born in Northern Italy, Battaglia can hardly be called a Viking, and even though Jarrett was among his early influences, he now is closer to, for example, Marilyn Crispell. Battaglia is highly concerned with the interaction between his piano and the other instruments in his trio (characteristically the drummer's seat is held by a percussionist, for the sake of color rather than steady pulse). The group never resorts to the theme-solo-theme pattern, since Battaglia and his partners are more interested in building sonic miniatures in the moment than in fitting into pre-established formats. Their composing most of their tunes together relates to these options. Still, their playing is never abstract and, in the sound of each instrument as in the short melodic phrases that occur under Battaglia's fingers, one often finds the singing quality that devotees of stereotype may attribute not without cause to the Italian origin of these fine musicians. In their musical tradition this singing quality is called cantabile.

Reviewer: Thierry Quénum


Francesco Bearzatti: Why?

Track

Why?

Artist

Francesco Bearzatti (tenor sax)

CD

Suite for Tina Modotti (Parco Della Musica Records)

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Musicians:

Francesco Bearzatti (tenor sax),

Giovanni Falzone (trumpet), Danilo Gallo (bass), Zeno de Rossi (drums)

.

Composed by Francesco Bearzatti

.

Recorded: Udine, Italy, June 4-5 & 27 2007

Albumcoverfrancescobearzatti-suitefortinamodotti

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

With this quartet, Francesco Bearzatti has arguably reached the peak of his creativity. Still in his 30s, this fiery clarinet and tenor player has had an interesting career as a sidemen in Italy and France. He also led his own organ combo and "Sax Pistols," a loud trio with Stomu Takeishi and Dan Weiss reflecting his interest in Led Zeppelin and Nirvana. But with this consistent suite dedicated to an Italian-born adventuress who died in Mexico during the 1940s, Bearzatti finds not only a theme but also a format. Sound-wise, this quartet could be a rock band as far as power and tightness are concerned. Jazz-wise, they display a variety of attributes that goes back several decades from early New Orleans music to now, a range that can seldom be heard nowadays and their joy in playing and improvising is absolutely breathtaking. Could such a band come from anywhere but Italy? Why not, of course, but since Enrico Rava or Gianluigi Trovesi many musicians from the Peninsula have displayed an ability to feed on any period of jazz history not to imitate but to fuel their own creativity. Bearzatti and his mates are definitely wild improvisers with a vivid past and no fear of the future. May they spread the message as far beyond their native country as possible.

Reviewer: Thierry Quénum


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