Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Max and Dado – “Two for Duke”

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“The Jazz duo is an affirmative exercise in self-denial, a musical fast in which one gives up some expected ingredient in the cause of the greater good; intimacy, freedom, self-exploration, name your poison. Without the ballast of a beat, the emptiness leaves the duo in the back alley of the experimental where expectations are discouraged.”
- John McDonough, Down Beat

“Ellington and Strayhorn have invented something that did not exist before, laying the foundations of a harmonic and melodic language that anticipated the times of several decades.”
- Franco Fayenz, insert notes to Two for Duke

If you stick around Jazz in Italy long enough, you’ll soon discover that all roads lead to Dado … Moroni, that is.

Sooner or later, just about everyone on today’s Italian Jazz scene works with him.

Maybe it is because the guy is so personable, engaging and really knows what he’s doing.

Or maybe it’s because, whatever the setting, he swings like mad.

John McDonough is correct when he underscores that in a duo setting, “without the ballast of the beat … expectations are discouraged.”

But when you are performing music in a duo setting with Dado Moroni on piano, there’s never an absence of a beat.  It is just not possible to play the music with him without driving it forward in some way.  No meandering here; no rhythmic vacuums; no limpid introspections. When you play Jazz with Dado, it swings.

Dado is from the old school who believes that Jazz should always have what Marshall Stearns in The Story of Jazz defines as a certain “metronomic sense” that is derived from the march rhythm which is basic to Jazz.

Stearns explains that the early New Orleans brass bands added something new to march rhythm – they made it swing.

“Theorists tell us that there is no limit to the complex­ities that can be superimposed upon march rhythm—and that is what jazz is doing. The basis of jazz is a march rhythm but the jazzman puts more complicated rhythms on top of it. He blows a variety of accents between and around, above and below, the march beat. It's a much more complicated process than syncopation, which is usu­ally defined as stressing the normally weak beat, for syn­copation sounds unutterably old-fashioned to a jazzman. A regular six-piece band playing in the New Orleans style can create rhythmic complexities which no machine yet invented can fully diagram.” [pp.4-5]…

“Understanding and enjoying this kind of rhythmic com­plexity is entirely a matter of training. Contrary to the popular notion, nobody is born with a fine sense of rhythm —people simply learn it, sometimes quite unconsciously. … If your metronome sense is highly developed, you can feel a foundation rhythm when all you hear is a shower of accents being superimposed upon it.” [p. 6]

What’s the connection between Stearns’ “metronomic sense” and Dado?

It’s an easy one to make as some of Dado’s earliest exposure to Jazz was through listening to recordings that his father brought home featuring pianists Earl “Fatha” Hines, Thomas “Fats” Waller and Teddy Wilson.

All three of these early paragons of Jazz piano developed rhythmic styles that were infused with a heavy metronomic sense. Erroll Garner also became an influence on Dado with his use of “a steady left hand [that] creates and fulfils the expectancy of a continuous rhythm. Garner’s lag-along right hand … sets up a contrasting tension which is released when, by means of more unexpected accents, he catches up.” [Ibid.].

Because he is resident in Genoa, Italy for most of the year, is it any wonder that younger Jazz players in Italy seek him out?

He’s their connection to the Jazz tradition because Dado brings many characteristics   of the whole history of Jazz to his playing - metronomic swing, blue tonality, call-and-response techniques, not to mention a sophisticated understanding of modern Jazz harmonies.

One minute Dado is coloring his solos with ragtime notations, the next he’s playing flatted fifths like Bud Powel or using the quartal and quintal harmonies that pianist McCoy Tyner employed with John Coltrane ‘s quartet in the 1960s.

Another reason why so many contemporary Italian Jazzmen associate with Dado is because of his fervent love for, and immense understanding of, the music of Duke Ellington.

As he remarked recently: “I never get tired of playing Duke's music...in many ways probably the best repertoire in jazz.” 

Jazz has always been about setting new directions, but perhaps before seeking these, it might not be bad idea to take a “compass” of Duke Ellington’s music along to guide the way.

It would seem that saxophonist Max Ionata had the presence of mind to check his bearings early in his career by collaborating with Dado on a recording of Duke’s music.

Max is a monster player who combines the harmonic qualities of John Coltrane on the tenor and soprano saxophones with the melodicism and sonority of modern cool school tenor saxophonists such as Al Cohn, Zoot Sims and Richie Kamuca.

He’s a forceful player, but he gets a warm, rich sound, particularly on the tenor. 

He doesn’t get caught up in saxophone calisthenics while seemingly trying to wrestle the instrument to the ground; Max’s is more interested in making beautiful music that swings.

Max’s ideas flow easily and on Two for Duke [ViaVenetoJazzVVJ o77] both he and Dado have found a variety of ways to make Duke’s music their own whether it’s the gospel-like intensity of their version of Come Sunday, a soulful rendering of Day Dream or the ¾ waltz interpretation of All Too Soon which forms the audio track to the following video tribute to Max and Dado.

On Two for Duke, they add new and masterful interpretations to one of the great cultural gifts of the 20th century – The Music of Duke Ellington.

[Two for Duke is available as both an audio CD and an Mp3 download from Amazon, CD Baby and other on-line sellers. We would also like to recognize the creative and supportive contributions of Giandomenico Ciaramella of Jando Music for making this recording possible].