Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Jazz in Italy: The House of Jazz - Part 1

- Steven Cerra. [C] Copyright protected; all rights reserved.
Inaugurated on April 22, 2005, The House of Jazz [Casa del Jazz] occupies the beautiful Villa Osia which was built in the 1930's by the architect Cesare Pascoletti.
In a bit of irony, given the somewhat dodgy early history of Jazz in the United States, the building and the grounds were appropriated [confiscated ?] by the "Comune di Roma" from a well-known, local criminal and restructured into a facility devoted to the perpetuation of Jazz in Italy and Europe!
This three-storied building and its magnificent park which sits on two and half hectares is designed to be a multi-functional centre for Jazz performances and related activities. In addition its the multi-purpose auditorium that seats 150, the complex also includes a state-of-the-art rehearsal rooms, recording studio, library and multimedia archive room. Also available are sleeping quarters for Italian and foreign artists, a restaurant/cafe' and a beautiful parkland featuring a variety of specialty gardens.
According to my translation of a press release from Palaexpo, the specialty company charged with its management, the idea of Casa del Jazz: "is to encourage and propagate Jazz here in Italy, creating the chance for musicians, promoters and critics to meet together and to promote activities for the benefit of all those who wish to acquire a knowledge and understanding of Jazz."

Sadly, there is no such contribution of resources for a House of Jazz in the country of the music's birth, at least none that I am aware of as of this writing.

In an effort to share the richness of the current Jazz scene in Italy, the editorial staff at Jazzprofiles has decided to offer a piece that focuses on a number of jazzitaliano live recordings including those by Rosario Giuliani, Stefano di Battista, Maurizio Giammarco, Enrico Pieranunzi, Gianluigi Trovesi, and Franco d’Andrea. It begins this piece with a review of drummer Roberto Gatto's quintet which appeared on the blog earlier this year.
For a full listing of the many additional recordings available in this series, please visit Jazzos.com- http://www.jazzos.com/products0.php?brand=506329.

Ira Gitler, the long-time critic writing on the website AllAboutJazz concerning the forthcoming 2005 Jazzitaliano Festival wrote:

Italian jazz musicians are the best in Europe and are world-class players. American
jazz lovers have been aware of this to some extent, through recordings and some live performances in New York over the past few decades. In March New York audiences will have an even clearer and more complete picture. From the 1st through the 6th, conceived by impresario Giampiero Rubei, the Jazzitaliano Festival will be presented in a variety of Manhattan jazz clubs. … March in New York is said to blow in like a lion. This year that force will be embodied by Italian jazz-lions.
Listening to Roberto Gatto Quintet’s Tribute to Miles Davis ’64-’68 [jazzitaliano live 2006 - Palaexpo 03] with Flavio Boltro [trumpet], Daniele Scannapieco [tenor sax], Dado Moroni [piano], Rosario Bonaccorso [bass] and Roberto Gatto play a repertoire of tunes from the pre-electric Miles period of the 1960’s will leave little doubt in your mind about the quality of Jazz on exhibit in Italy, nor about the validity of Mr. Gitler’s view of it.

The tunes on this recording are from Miles’ Seven Steps to Heaven Columbia album and from the period referred to by Jack Chambers in his wonderful book, Milestones: The Music and Times of Miles Davis as the “Circle, 1964-8.” Included in this period are such recordings as E.S.P, Miles Davis Quintet in Berlin, and the Miles Davis Quintet at the Plugged Nickel multiple disc set.

The track selections on the Gatto quintet’s tribute CD are: [1] Joshua [2] There is No Greater Love [3] Footprints [4] Stella by Starlight [5] All Blues [6] Basin Street Blues [7] All of You and [8] Seven Steps to Heaven.It’s obvious that these Italian Jazz musicians have been influenced by the Miles-Shorter-Hancock-Carter-Williams group from the Circle period. Boltro acknowledges Miles’ phrasing, Scannapieco Shorter’s tone, Moroni is indebted to Feldman’s percussive approach to the piano, Bonaccorso’s big sound comes from Carter-by-way-of-Chambers, and Gatto’s approach to keeping time on drums is done in the interrupted and inflected style as first emphasized by Tony Williams [by way of Elvin Jones].

But these Italian Jazz musicians all put their own “footprint” on this music [apologies to Wayne] by making unique contributions to this portion of the Miles canon.

Don Pate, son of the Jazz bassist, Johnny Pate, offers the following observation in Paul F. Berliner’s brilliant Thinking in Jazz: The Infinite Art of Improvisation:

“What’s intense about a solo is where somebody does something and it makes you think: ‘What’s THAT he’s playing?’ or ‘WHERE is he coming from? Or ‘HOW did he ever do that.”
This description - what Pate calls “otherwhere”- is akin to The New Yorker’s long-standing Jazz critic, Whitney Balliett’s famous phrase – “The sound of surprise.”
If “otherwhere” and “the sound of surprise” are an aspect of Jazz improvisation that interest you, there’s plenty of it on this recording.

While Gatto’s style owes its inspiration to Elvin Jones and Tony Williams, what Jazz drummer in the last 50 years hasn’t shared in this influence, he also has a prodigious technique that allows him to say something that is all his own.

As an example, Roberto’s solos on Footprints and Seven Steps to Heaven employ a style that crosses bar lines while creating a sense of time that seems to be floating or suspended [the Tony Williams influence] but what is also in evidence here is the use of drums figures that are uniquely Gatto’s.

All drummers, at one time or another, have a go at Seven Steps to Heaven, but Gatto’s solo is blisteringly fast, displays and amazing control over the instrument and is full of sustained excitement. I’ve listened to many drum solos on this tune and Roberto’s is of the highest quality I’ve ever heard.

Another highlight from this recording is Dado Moroni re-harmonizing of Victor Feldman’s already-famously reharmonized Basin Street Blues. Dado’s spot-on “comping” [accompaniment] and mature presence is felt on every tune and his solos are engaging and polished.

Tenot saxophonist Daniele Scannpieco’s playing is another surprising treat on this recording. His tone may be reminiscent of Shorter, but his phrasing is like no other tenor player that I’ve ever heard before. He takes so many chances and while he escapes from some of his improvisational adventures, he also crashes during others by placing himself in situations from which there is no extraction other than by taking a deep breath and going on to build the next sequence. What fun!

Bonaccorso is a rock throughout; Gatto’s constant barrage of rhythmic urgings would overwhelm the music without Rosario steady time-keeping. And his selection of notes in which to frame the chords is impeccable.

Boltro’s sound, while indebted to Miles, is fuller and his range on the horn enables him to go places that one wishes Miles would have gone in his solos, but couldn’t because of his technical limitations. Boltro takes some of Miles’ well-known licks and make completes phrases out of them. Like Miles his tone is vibrato-less and mellow but he can also attack or punch notes to add a bit of Dizzy’s pyrotechnics now and again.

If you are looking for a musical maiden voyage to Jazz in Italy, you need look no farther than this CD. Despite its familiar musical story lines, you’ll find it to be full of new sounds, new approaches and new ideas; in other words, full of “otherwhere!”
Born in Rome in 1969 into a family of what he describes as “passionate musicians,” Stefano di Battista waited until the relatively late age of thirteen to take up the alto saxophone. His two earliest influences were recordings by Art Pepper [who introduced him to the “joy in Jazz”] and the teaching of the legendary, Italian alto saxophonist Massimo Urbani. Di Battista attended a music conservatory from ages 13-16 where he developed an extraordinary facility on the instrument by studying it classically. While at school, Urbani introduced him to the music of Charlie Parker and John Coltrane which were to become the two formative influences on his style.

Di Battista first gained public recognition in 1992 as a member of Nat Adderley’s group. He also spent time in Paris during the early 1990s playing in various groups led by drummer Aldo Romano and as a member of the of the French National Orchestra of Jazz under the direction of Laurent Cugny. In 1998, he signed with Verve after releasing two albums on the French “Label Bleu.” Today, he is a Blue Note recording artist and that label granted permission for the release of Stefano di Battista: jazzitaliano live 2006 [Palaexpo 04].

Di Battista has a magnificent technique and like many young players he likes to put it on display [sometimes all of it in one chorus!]. Yet, his inventiveness can be awe-inspiring; the guy can really get around the horn.
On this CD, di Battista is joined by Eric Legnini, his pianist of choice, Rosario Bonaccorso returns on bass from the Roberto Gatto quintet and Andre Ceccarelli is on drums. In an effort to boost vocal Jazz at the Casa del Jazz, female vocalist Nicky Nicolai joins the quartet to offer a moving rendition of N. Piovani’s Doppi Significati [Double Meaning] which closes the concert.

AndrĂ© Ceccarelli has long been one of Europe's premiere jazz drummers and since the new century began he is getting additional opportunities to showcase his talent as a bandleader and composer/arranger as well and Bonaccorso is a first call bassist with a number of Italian-based Jazz groups. But, aside from another exhibition of di Battista’s mastery of the soprano and alto saxophones, the real revelation on this recording is the piano artistry of Eric Legnini.
The set opens with a stirring version of A Night in Tunisia in which di Battista’s four-bar break after the playing of the line is the equal of that played by Bird on the classic Dial recording. It is followed by the group’s version of Laura during which Leginini, in a sterling display of pianism, takes an incredible solo based around a series of re-harmonization that utterly transforms the standard. Legnini’s four minute solo on this second tune of the concert is mesmerizing. It not only took my breath away, but you can also hear members of the audience gasping with the sheer beauty of its sound.

With the exception of Nicolai’s closer, all of the other five tracks on this recording range from 11 minutes to 21 minutes, which gives everyone a chance to stretch out. Also adding to their length are the codas [or “tags” or “tails”] that closes each tune. These extensions are based either on a sustained chord or an oscillation between two chords and serve to provide either di Battista and/or Legnini with a platform to experiment with motifs, vamps and riffs while Bonaccorso and Ceccarelli are keeping things cooking in the background.

This recording is an excellent introduction to di Battista’s passionate and joyous approach to Jazz with the added bonus of Legnini’s sparkling pianistic inventions, all propelled forward a first-rate rhythm section.
As he approaches his 60th birthday, Enrico Pieranunzi has long been considered one of the grand masters of Italian Jazz and this performance does nothing to dissuade from that view. As was the case with Michel Petrucciani, Pieranunzi had a guitar-playing father who was also a Jazz fan. And like Michel’s Dad, Enrico’s father-required that his son study the piano classically. As a result, Pieranunzi has become a man of two worlds: performing jazz in a variety of settings while at the same time serving as a classical pianist and teacher at the Conservatory of Music in Frosinone [Lazio province which is located southeast of Rome].

Over the years, Pieranunzi has played with Chet Baker, Art Farmer, Jim Hall, Lee Konitz, Frank Rosolino and Phil Woods, issued a number of trio recordings for various label, usually with rhythm sections that include bassists Marc Johnson or Charlie Haden and drummers Joey Barron or Paul Motian, and has been voted the number one Jazz musician in Italy on many occasions. In 1997, while receiving the “Django D’Or” as the best jazz musician in Europe, Le Monde said of him:

“The Roman pianist has created one of the most successful experiments of today’s jazz music scene. His sense of nuances and dynamics is reflected in his playing, at times lyrical and meditative, at times venturous and intoxicating”.
These qualities and attributes are all on display in Enrico Pieranunzi: jazzitaliano live 2006 [Palaexpo 08] on which Pieranunzi is joined by Rosario Giuliani [ss/as], Fabrizio Bosso [tp/flugelhorn], Pietro Ciancaglini [#1,2,5,7] and Luca Bulgarelli [b], and Walter Paoli [d]. Vocalist Ada Montellanico joins the group are a number of tracks, and while she does sing some lyrics [notably on Enrico’s original – Armida’s Garden], Pieranunzi writes her into to some of these compositions as another “horn.” The parts Ada sings are extremely complex and her masterful execution of them is a testimony to her reading skills and excellent intonation. Be forewarned, however, that her pronunciation of English lyrics leaves a great deal to be desired.

Pieranunzi opens his concert with a trio version of Ein li Milin, an original with a lovely melody that is infused with classical-pastoral overtones and is very reminiscent of Keith Jarrett’s My Song. Bosso and Giuliani join in on the next track - Night Bird - a 16 bar, medium tempo blues that gets the quintet cooking. Ada Montellanico is then added to complete then band on Armida’s Garden, a hip slick and cool jazz waltz. After singing the lyrics, and following the individual solos by Giuliani, Bosso and Pieranunzi, Ada joins in to sing unison lines with either piano or one of the horns 0n a spectacular shout chorus. This is the first tune that unleashes Giuliani’s Cannonball-inspired wail and Rosario and Bosso literally rip through their choruses with inspired solos.

On the concert’s next piece, Persona, Ada’s voice is once again infused with the horns, but this time in harmony, instead of unison. Giuliani switches to soprano and all the soloists once again deliver impressive short choruses on this up tempo burner. Montellanico further impresses with her musicianship by harmonizing noted, counter-melodies with the bass and the horns that provide an alternative “out” or closing chorus for the tune.

Fabrizio Bosso next gets the spotlight with a beautiful Harmon-mute version of Pieranunzi’s lovely ballad – As Never Before. Giuliani follows in the solo spotlight with a emotive soprano saxophone version of Pieranunzi’s jaunty Autumn Song. The tune closes with Rosario and Enrico trading eight bar solos with Walter Paoli, another of the never-ending stream of excellent young drummers on the Italian Jazz scene.

Continuing the pattern of featuring the individual members of the group, Ada Montellanico is up next with a vocal rendering of Pieranunzi’s surreal sounding lyrics to Non Posso Sognarti Come Sei on which she sings a note-for-note solfeggio in unison with Fabrizio’s Bosso flugelhorn solo on the tune. Much to her pleasure [and relief, one would imagine] Montellanico also gets to do a bit more straight-singing [mercifully, in Italian] on Luigi Tenco’s Il Tempo Passo and Se Sapessi Come Fei. Aurelio Pasini offers this background on Tenco in
www.allmusic.com: “Luigi Tenco is doubtless one of the most tragic and misunderstood figures in the history of Italian pop music. Largely ignored — when not openly criticized — during his life, after his suicide he became the object of a posthumous cult that transformed him into an icon of despair and angst. He became a symbol of love and desperation deeply rooted in his own time but also universal, despite the fact that his desperate love ballads and Sartre-tinged ennui were only two facets of his complex artistic personality, which at times was ironic and socially aware as well.”
The quintet is rejoined for Fellini’s Waltz - Pieranunzi homage to the great filmmaker - a waltz with more overtones of 6/4 than 3/4 and which has some lovely writing for the horns over which Enrico constructs his very moving solo. The tune is just one indication of how much thought and preparation has gone into the selection and presentation of the music for this concert. The Pieranunzi Casa del Jazz performance is as much a composition tour de force as one that highlights the significant improvisational skills on the musicians and, as such, it serves to demonstrate that the superior, creative qualities of Jazz in Italy on all levels. …. To Be Continued …

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