© - Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
Ira Gitler, the critic and award winning Jazz writer has long asserted that 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 live performances at clubs in New York and at a few of the regional Jazz Festivals.
As is often the case when it comes to a discerning excellence in Jazz, Japanese Jazz fans have also been aware for some of the high quality of Jazz embodied by many of today’s Italian Jazz-lions.
Some, such as Satoshi Toyoda, the owner-operator of Albore Records, which is based near Nagoya, Japan, provide a broader platform from which we can all appreciate the music of Italian Jazz musicians by recording a select number of them on a regular basis.
The musicianship on all of these Albore Records CD’s featuring Italian Jazz players is strikingly accomplished and well-worth your effort to seek out. The CD’s are beautifully packaged with many excellent photographs of the musicianship imprinted on very high quality paper.
I posted the above comments about Jazz in Italy and Japan-based Albore Records in relation to previous releases by the label and now comes news about two more of its brilliant releases to share with you:  The Cause of the Sequence [Albore ALBCD 025]with a trio led by tenor saxophonist Barend Middelhoff that features Massimo Morganti on trombone and Nico Menci on piano and  Just You, Just Me [Albore ALBCD 026] with showcases the talents of bassist Giuseppe Bassi and pianist Domenico Sanna.
The following video frames the CD’s cover and offers the listener an opportunity to hear the opening track Nothing to Lose.
Robert Paviglianiti, in his insert notes to the CD, [Tim Trevor-Briscoe, translator; paragraphing modified], explains:
“I first heard about Albore Jazz from Roberto Gatto, in the summer of 2010, before a concert of his in Castel Gandolfo, near Rome. ‘it's a serious label,’ he said enthusiastically, ‘managed by the producer Satoshi Toyoda, who always thinks about the artist's needs first.’ The label continued to grow and became well-known in the international jazz scene thanks to the release of its many interesting albums.
Its twenty-fifth CD is no exception: The Cause Of The Sequence, played by the trio Barend Middelhoff [tenor saxophone], Massimo Morganti [trombone] and Nico Menci [piano]. It's an unusual combination: tenor sax and trombone, who are ready to play together or exchange roles as protagonist, and piano, skilled in building both a flexible rhythmic framework and adding to the overall expressiveness with well-measured movement. The three work towards precise positioning in terms of sound space and refer continuously to melodic phrases and linear, singable themes.
Much importance is also given to the parts left blank in the score, which let the music breath and loosen the stitching in the musical fabric, allowing the tonal character of the instruments to stand out even more. All this develops over a medium-slow tempo, playing on ideas that hark back to the cool jazz scene and to chamber music situations, creating an elegant, open ensemble, with a subtle power of communication.
The trio exudes clarity of expression in passages like Middelhoff's Ballad For Anna, dedicated to his wife, who he met in France a few years ago, embracing a life full of unknown adventure together, to later settle down in Bologna where they now live. It is a ballad full of sweetness and poetry, in which the tenor sax with its puckered breathing, always plays in the foreground, as if to emphasize a lasting, deep and sincere love. At the end of the tracklist we find an equally expressive piece, Musiplano. The theme was recorded by Massimo Morganti in 2012 with a piano less quartet and is here presented in a more moderate version, where depth of style and embellished outlined to the piece can be found in Nico Menci's piano itself.
Morganti was also responsible for the arrangement of Angel Eyes by Matt Dennis, previously recorded by the trombonist with Marco Postacchini's octet. Through alternating solos, each player is drawn into this standard in the same way, and the resulting overall interpretation is rich in essentiality. The other remake on the album is Nothing To Lose by Henri Mancini, in which the trio proves it can venture into any repertoire without compromising its personal sound, which remains well-rooted and very recognizable throughout. Here the melody is played by the trombone and supported by saxophone. This creates a striking impact, a haunting feel and offers attractive shades of tone. Middelhoff said about this piece: ‘We went into the studio and we just played, in a natural way, without forcing anything and without complex arrangements.’
The fluency of form and naturalness of both harmonic, rhythmic and melodic developments, clearly pervades the whole recording, as we can hear in Unison Party for example, where sax and trombone move hand in hand in a particularly strong fusion of tones. These features also emerge in the tracks Big Belly Blues and Slow White Blues, where Nico Menci shows how he can work without drums or double bass, thanks to his precise use of rhythm.
The title track, meanwhile, is a symbol of spontaneity: it begins with written harmony and the thematic sequence then develops freehand, nourished by a steady stream of inspiration. As a whole, the trio shows a defined personality, thanks to the intelligence and dedication of the individual musicians. Their serious approach avoids any monotony which, for such a structured album, could have proved the biggest danger.”
Tenor saxophonist Barend Middelhoff offers this view of how The Cause of the Sequence came about:
“Some time ago I developed the idea of writing music for a "drum-and-bass less" trio. My natural choice was Massimo Morganti and Nico Menci, since I was looking for a lyrical, traditional sound in which the combination of instruments creates enough space to experiment. I called Massimo and Nico to tell them about my plans to write music for a tenor, trombone, piano trio. We agreed and we got together to develop some repertoire. After some gigs we went up to Vignola to record and hear what the music would be like...
We are living in a time where concerts are getting less frequent and at the same time the music needs to be expressed more than ever. That's why I think we should record as much as possible, to leave behind a trace of the time that we are living in right now. In my opinion Albore Jazz has the right spirit which corresponds to the needs of music and the soul of the musician.
We start this album off with a fine composition by Henry Mancini, Nothing to Lose, that gives Massimo the space to "stretch out" the melody, followed by his arrangement of the standard Angel Eyes, not played as a ballad this time but more as a 2-feel medium-up tempo. In Unison Party Nico opens up with some Debussy-coloured harmonies. After that, tenor and trombone explore the beauty of playing the same voice. Long free melodies are changed by simple melodic repetitions with changing chords underneath. Big Belly Blues is a line that I wrote some years ago experimenting with moving accents in a fast eight-note melody, while Slow White Blues serves us the right to play the Blues without denying our cultural background... The Cause of the Sequence is just a way to fit melody, rhythm and harmony together. The essence of writing music I think... Ballad for Anna is dedicated to the girl who brought me to Italy. She is now my beautiful wife and mother of my two children. We finish this album with Massimo's beautiful suggestive 3/4 composition Musipiano.
Bologna, February 2015”
Echoes of valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer’s The Street Swingers World Pacific LP with guitarists Jim Hall and Jimmy Raney, or clarinetist/saxophonist Jimmy Giuffre’s work with Brookmeyer and Hall, and vibraphonist Red Norvo’s trio with Tal Farlow on guitar and Charlie Mingus on bass can be heard throughout this music. The lack of a drummer’s insistent beat allows the music to flow more freely and provides for a softer and “cooler” form of expression.
The Cause of the Sequence literally becomes clearer with repeated listenings as all three of the musicians on the CD are accomplished soloists with much originality to offer in the stories they tell.
Just You, Just Me [Albore ALBCD 026] marks the debut as a leader of bassist Giuseppe Bassi in a duo with pianist Domenico Sanna.
As Giuseppe succinctly puts it:
“For 10 years, I've never had an urge to make CD as leader. I needed an encounter. Then, I met Domenico Sanna. I talked about my favorite music and shared all with him. To remember such our encounter, we decided to enter into studio, in duo, in which the swing, melodies, interplays can be more intimate and crystallized. I hope people don't care absence of drums, instruments developed for, and with jazz. We played some standards and our compositions, where swing combines with our sentiments totally set free. We hope that attentive and disengaged listeners could enjoy every moment of this CD, played by heart.”
Giuseppe Bassi’s big, booming, bass sound needs a pianist who can bring strength and stamina in order to stand up to it. Sanna is more than equal to the task and the two excellent musicians joyously romp through eleven tracks made up of standards such as Billy Strayhorn’s Lush Life, Jerry Bock’s Too Close for Comfort, not to mention Jesse Greer’s 1929 composition after which the CD is named.
The tune on the video Circo Chi? was composed by Domenico Sanna and is based on the changes to Cherokee.
Both recordings provide wonderful glimpses into the current Italian Jazz scene and I for one am indebted to Satoshi Toyoda and his fine team at Albore Records for making it possible to hear the music of these first-rate musicians.