Saturday, October 11, 2014

Max Ionata and Luca Mannutza on Albore Records

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

“It's like going out there naked every night. Any one of us can screw the whole thing up because we're out there improvising. The classical guys have their scores, but we have to be creating, or trying to, anticipating each other, taking chances every goddamn second. That's why when jazz musicians are really putting out, it's an exhausting experience. It can be exhilarating too, but there's always that touch of fear, that feeling of being on a very high wire without a net.” 
- Nat Hentoff, Jazz Is

Have you ever noticed that certain national cultures seem to have an affinity for Jazz?

England, France, Italy, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, The Netherlands, Russia, Canada, Australia, Poland, Ukraine, Japan and China constantly lead the list of “visitors” to this blog.

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles welcomes audiences from all countries and it certainly hopes the use of the “Google translator” feature assists them in reading the features that appear on its pages.

With the recent arrival of tenor saxophonist Max Ionata’s Inspiration Live [ALBCD 024] and pianist Luca Mannutza’s Sound Six: Tributo Al Sestetti Anni 60 [ALBCD 008], two new CD’s from Satoshi Toyoda’s Albore Records in Tokyo, Japan, we have once again been reminded of the universality of Jazz and the Japanese and Italian affinity for the music.

Jazz has evolved so greatly from its origins in the US and become so cosmopolitan that these recordings feature Italian Jazz musicians appearing on recordings produced in Japan!

Artistic excellence, stylistic integrity, quality in craftsmanship - all have deep meaning and are given great reverence and respect in both Italian and Japanese culture. Given these cultural propensities, it is not surprising that Italy and Japan would “find one another” in relationship to Jazz.

Whatever the reason, we are very happy that Max and Luca hooked up with Satoshi because the music on these recordings is absolutely brilliant.

Max Ionata’s Inspiration Live [ALBCD 024] features Luca Mannutza on piano, Giuseppe Bassi on bass [Is that not a great name for a bassist?]] and Nicola Angelucci on drums. The CD is a sequel of sorts to Max’s 2009 Albore Records CD Inspiration [ALBCD 004] on which Luca also appears.

Inspiration Live was recorded in performance at the Uefillion Music Club in Gioia Del Calle which is located near Bari, Italy just above “the heel” on the Adriatic Sea coast.

It seems to have been recorded on one evening in January, 2013 and if this is the case it was a blistering series of sets as everyone in the band is in fine form.

The music is so well recorded that it jumps out at you and envelops you in its sound. The audio is mixed and mastered but this does nothing to detract from its “presence” which is vital and alive. The sound is not hollow or distant. If you close your eyes while listening to the music, you have the sense that you are actually in the club with the musicians performing in front of you.

And oh how well they perform. With a great mixture of three originals by Max, one by Luca, Jazz standards by Frank Foster and Antonio Carlos Jobim, and a roaring version of The Great American Songbook-Irving Berlin Classic The Best Thing For You Is Me, this is one of the best paced lived dates to come along in quite a while.

The group uses a number of sophisticated devices to keep the set fresh for the listener including a variety of tempos, song structures and rhythmic devices such as playing the initial choruses in 2/4 before switching to 4/4 to really propel things forward on the solos they take on The Best Thing For You Is Me.

Nobody “teaches” you this stuff. You’ve got to have “big ears,” listen closely and know how to apply what you are picking up on.

Max is a monster tenor player: technique to spare; a big, bossy, blustery tenor tone; a sense of swing reminiscent of the great “big horn” players of the past. Max also plays soprano sax on his original Jazz waltz, Aurora, and on Ornette Coleman’s When Will The Blues Leave with great restraint thus avoiding the undesirable “fish horn” and “nanny goat” vibrato that undermine the instrument’s legitimacy with some Jazz fans.

Ionata is so hard to classify, that once I stopped trying, I recognized him for who he is - a true original on the instrument with his own voice and his own style of improvisation. You’ve heard it all before and yet you haven’t. He is unique and he impresses with each and every song rendering and improvised solo.

The same can be said of Luca Mannutza. What a player. Hard-charging; finger-poppin’: he’s all over the piano in a way that leaves you breathless. There are overtones of McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, and Keith Jarrett in Luca’s approach, but he puts things together using modern piano harmonies in a completely different manner. He, too, has very much become his own man on his instrument. Respectful of the tradition, but still charging ahead to put his own stamp on it.

Max and Luca’s playing engrosses you.  Chorus after chorus, they bring you under their spell with a series of unrelentingly creative solos. Giuseppe Bassi on bass and Nicola Angelucci provide the perfect accompaniment with Bassi making the most of the solo space he is given and Angelucci making things happen from the drum chair without being overbearing. They cook when they need to, provide perfect support on the ballads, and keep the time flawlessly. You can set your metronome to their timekeeping. How many modern-day Jazz rhythm sections can you say that about?  [Too many of them rush.]

Max and Luca’s playing over the two chord tag that oscillates up and down at the end of the opening tune - I Hope You Wish - will leave you gasping for metaphorical “air” because of the intense atmosphere it generates..

Am I enthusiastic about this recording? You bet. Inspiration Live [ALBCD 024] is an instant classic. It has become one of my favorite Jazz recordings to the point where I can’t bring myself to pull it out of the CD changer.

Although recorded during two, studio dates in November, 2009, pianist Luca Mannutza’s Sound Six: Tributo Al Sestetti Anni 60 [ALBCD 008] is equally as compelling.

Max Ionata returns the favor by playing tenor on Luca’s session and joining them in rounding out the sextet are Andy Gravish on trumpet, Paolo Recchia on alto saxophone, Renato Gattone on bass and Andrea Nunzi on drums.

As is the case with Bassi and Angelucci on Max’s CD, Gattone and Nunzi form a powerful rhythm section on Luca’s album that magnifies the intensity of everyone’s solo efforts. They listen well and provide energy and drive while demonstrating amazing maturity for players who are so young.

Luca’s CD is a tribute to the Jazz of the 1960’s with the group performing George Russell’s Ezz-thetic, Kenny Dorham’s Una Mas, Wayne Shorter’s Sweet ‘n Sour, The Big Push, and On the Ginza, Chick Corea’s Litha, Duke Pearson’s You Know I Care and Mulgrew Miller’s Grew’s Tune.

This is a formidable collection of tunes played by a group of Jazz musicians who are equal to the task.

In the insert notes booklet, Luca Mannutza explains that “this project was born just from the desire to record these tunes that have a particular sense for me, that I’ve listened to a thousand times over.”

Mannutza’s arrangements inject a new vitality into these tunes, many of which are exceedingly difficult to play and require well-developed “chops” [technique] to solo on.

For example, while George Russell’s Ezz-thetic may be based on the changes [chord progressions] to Cole Porter’s Love for Sale, its substituted melody line is very complicated and demands precise implementation to prevent it from becoming a train wreck.

Wayne Shorter’s music is never easy either in conception or execution, yet it is a testament to the skill of the musicians on Sound Six: Tributo Al Sestetti Anni 60 that they are able to tear through three of them effortlessly.

All of the musicians on this recording can also play with great sensitivity as they demonstrate on Duke Pearson’s lovely ballad You Know I Care or on Mulgrew Miller’s slow-moving burner Grew’s Tune.

Both Max Ionata’s Inspiration Live [ALBCD 024] and pianist Luca Mannutza’s Sound Six: Tributo Al Sestetti Anni 60 [ALBCD 008] are well worth adding to your Jazz collection. They are available through, and

I, for one, am certainly glad that Max, Luca and Satoshi have an affinity for one another and for Jazz.

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