Ernst Reijseger & Franco D'Andrea: Two Colors

Reijseger and D'Andrea are two strong individuals whose vision of music goes far beyond the instruments they play. Dutch cellist Reijseger has brought his instrument far from the classical tradition, and his technical approach is both melodic and full of surprises. Italian pianist D'Andrea is an accomplished virtuoso who always uses his keyboard mastery to create unexpected clusters, rhythmic or sonic contrasts. Hearing the two together is a stimulating experience for the ears and a delight for the mind. With them, jazz truly is "the sound of surprise."

March 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gianluigi Trovesi & Gianni Coscia: Variazioni su Ose Shalom

Gianluigi Trovesi needs no introduction to anyone familiar with the European jazz scene. Gianni Coscia is less known, though the two musicians have had a duo for more that two decades. Both of them are familiar with folk music as well as the jazz idiom, and it's no wonder that they tackle a traditional klezmer tune in a playful and moving way. In the 1990s it became faddish for jazz musicians on both sides of the Atlantic to look for inspiration in the music of Eastern Europe. But Trovesi's and Coscia's approach goes much deeper than that of mere fashion victims.

March 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Giovanni Mirabassi: El Paso del Ebro

Italian pianist Giovanni Mirabassi lives in Paris and obviously has an internationally oriented soul. For this solo record, he collected songs of revolt and craving for freedom from all over the world, such as this Spanish Civil War song that the Liberation Music Orchestra included in its 1968 historical record. (There it's called "Viva la Quince Brigada (Long Live the Fifteenth Brigade)" and is part of a lengthy "Medley.") Mirabassi's version, by contrast, is far from the original chant of victory and closer to a romantic fantasy, with vibrant, lyrical chords and a re-harmonized melody that acquires nostalgic hues.

February 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Antonio Faraò: What Is This Thing Called Love

Antonio Faraò's dry touch and brisk, authoritative phrasing suggest that he's not really interested in the melody of this standard. His right-hand single-note lines played at medium tempo are impressive, and the rhythm team feeds him dense support. After more than two minutes, the left hand comes adds harmonic relief and the tempo slows down a bit, giving way to some feeling. But the virtuoso mood – with two hands this time – soon takes over again. One can admire the performance from a technical point of view, but it's a bit frustrating for those who are looking for "... this thing called Love."

February 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Michel Godard: C'Era una Strega, C'era una Fata

Among the new musicians to appear on the European jazz scene during the last 20 years, some have a classical background and an interest in ancient forms of music that goes beyond the Romantics and Impressionists that most jazz musicians nowadays know. Michel Godard is one of them, as is Gianluigi Trovesi, with whom he often plays. They both can seek melodies as far back as the Middle Ages, hence the ominous title of this "folia" (a traditional dance): "there was a witch, there was a fairy," recorded in a medieval castle. Starting from the simple melody stated by the accordion, then the clarinet, the three voices intertwine while progressively introducing a slow dance feel and improvisation. Not strictly jazz, some will say, but there are worse ways to explore one's roots than the method these three Europeans have chosen.

February 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Aldo Romano: Ghost Spell

This tune is based on a very simple and soft bouncing beat, maintained throughout by the rock-steady drummer, while the pianist frolics all over his keyboard with a masterful control and sense of construction. The bass is minimal, only briefly foraying out of its 4/4 walking role. The real crazy cat here walks on 88 keys. Going from single notes to block chords, from virtuoso phrases in the upper register to earthy bass lines, from unisons with both hands to harmony and melody tackled by each, Danilo Rea never lets your ears rest. Still he doesn't show off, always keeping in touch with his quiet partners while creating a real miracle of subtly organized contrasts.

February 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Enrico Rava: Cromosomi

This is the type of lush Mediterranean ballad that you would bet is an Italian standard. Yet it is an original Rava composition, which he and his partners play with such feeling and conviction that it sounds totally idiomatic. No need to overplay, even during the improvisations, to give an impression of serene joy, of congenial getting together, of attention to sound and details that remind us of all that Italy has produced – and can still produce – in the fine arts, including cooking and "art de vivre." Don't they call easy living "la dolce vita" over there?

February 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Enrico Rava & Stefano Bollani: The Third Man

Since veteran trumpeter Enrico Rava discovered young pianist Stefano Bollani, they have toured and recorded as a duo in a way Rava had never done before with anyone else. Indeed, the empathy that has developed between them is such that they can go together anywhere – from typically joyous Mediterranean moods to more meditative ones – and be convincing in all situations. On this composition dedicated to their producer, Manfred Eicher, known for his love of Nordic atmospheres, Rava and Bollani favor long notes, textures, silences, space, and use the whole range of their instruments. But their taste for fleshy sound helps them avoid Nordic abstraction as well as Italian clichés.

February 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Enrico Rava & Stefano Bollani: Estaté

Not many Italian songs are part of the global jazz repertoire, but "Estaté" (composed by Bruno Martino and Bruno Brighetti) is one of the few to have made the leap. Ironically, the song is best known as a bossa nova number, due to a memorable recording by Brazilian João Gilberto. But if Italian jazz players are planning to reclaim this song as a Mediterranean-drenched ballad, no better repo men could be found than trumpeter Enrico Rava and pianist Stefano Bollani. These two artists have more than a decade of collaborations under their belt, and the duo's interaction on this track radiates their simpatico chemistry. This version of "Estaté" leaves the bossa nova far behind, although it still retains a dose of Gilberto's saudade. The performance moves from introspective lyricism to rhapsodic rubato, but never strains for effect. Highly recommended!

February 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Paolo Fresu: Angel

It starts out with Lê’s Hendrix-inspired guitar playing a noisy introduction, quickly followed by the rock- oriented rhythm of bass and drums. Then Fresu’s mellow muted trumpet launches the melody… and drags the whole band towards a more “angelic” climate, while Lê’s guitar maintains the freaky spirit of his left-handed idol. A very strange and uninhibited version of one of Hendrix’s hits, by an Italian-French quartet whose members think that the spirit – not the repertoire – is the main basis of a good jazz tune. Here is a 4:24-long masterful demonstration of their theory.

January 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Luigi Bonafede & Pietro Tonolo: Ricercare

A bouncing, joyful 3/4 romp launched by Bonafede’s piano, followed by Tonolo’s soprano sax playing the melody, that’s how "Ricercare" [translation: "Searching"] begins. A typically Italian way to start a first duo record by two musicians who are considered masters in their own country. Of course, they know better than just playing Mediterranean clichés, and soon begin exploring the rhythmic and melodic potential of the theme with great freedom. But where, outside of Italy, can musicians transform a simple little waltz into such a jewel with the magic of their warm sound and deep feeling?

January 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Enrico Pieranunzi: Winter Moon

The members of this trio have known each other for many years and the Atlantic is no barrier to them. They have found a common language, and speak it with great fluency. On a lyrical repetitive motif he penned, Pieranunzi builds a melodic crescendo with a gorgeous touch and sensual voicings. He then lets Johnson’s bass take over and tell its story with a typical mellow voice and dynamic accents. All the way through, Baron maintains a subtle, tonic pulse, that ties the two soloist together and effectively serves as the cement of the triangle.

January 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Enrico Rava: The Pilgrim and the Stars

"Contemporary Italian jazz can be said to have begun with Enrico Rava," critic Michael Zwerin has written. Rava is still recording for ECM more than three decades after the release of The Pilgrim and the Stars, and though his work has continued to evolve and mature, this early outing demonstrates the core virtues of his style -- a warm, inviting tone, especially rich in the lower register; great phrasing with lots of variety; a fluent technical command of the instrument; and very smart use of space and dynamics. Kudos (again) to ECM for hunting out deserving musicians such as Rava and bringing them to the attention of the global jazz audience.

December 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Gianluigi Trovesi: L’Infanta Arcibizzarra/Crisbell

Gianluigi Trovesi argued that if Duke Ellington could be influenced by the sights and sounds of Harlem, then he could be influenced by his beloved home town of Bergamo in Italy. In Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Bottom asks, “Will it please you…to hear a bergamask dance?” The Italian bergamasca is a dance that originated in Bergamo in 16th century. It’s all Trovesi needed to inspire this dizzying Midsummer fantasia where Italian folk dances and Renaissance variations provide a stimulus for improvisation, not as they did five hundred years ago, but refracted through the prism of jazz.

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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Stefano Bollani: Don't Talk

An Italian jazz pianist recording an old Brian Wilson Beach Boys song for his German record company . . . Don’t you love the global village? But I am an ardent admirer of Wilson’s compositions (full admission: Wilson and I grew up in the same neighborhood, albeit a few years apart), and wonder why jazz players don’t cover his tunes more often. Bollani can be formidable on the keyboard, but he tones it down on “Don’t Talk,” and his ruminative moodiness is perfect for this tune. Surf must be up on the Adriatic, but the waves here are gentle and the water warm and inviting. Don't talk . . . listen.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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