PIERRE FAVRE/TINO TRACANNA

Punctus
Splasc(H) Records CDH 817.2

Saxophonist Tino Tracanna obviously believes in the old adage that if first you don't succeed, try again.

The 45-year-old multi-reed player who has led his own groups, written for dance performances and been a member of brassman Paolo Fresu's combos, tried something a little different in late 1999 when he negotiated an only partially successful duo session with bassist Paolino Dalla Porta.

After that, the Bergamo, Italy-based, musician waited little more than half a year before heading into the studio with a different partner with much better results. Of course it helped that his partner here is 64-year-old Swiss percussionist Pierre Favre, who has worked with everyone from mainstreamers Chet Baker and Dexter Gordon to free improvisers Evan Parker and Peter Kowald. Astute and adroit, his 1990 duo with countrywomen pianist Irène Schweizer is the exemplar that Tracanna should have been aiming for in the first place.

So how palatable is this Italian sausage topped with Swiss cheese? Quite tasty, though with the average cooking time of about three minutes, some additional simmering might have been appreciated.

A sprightly skip for soprano and snare, at 1:37 "Punctus #3", for instance, is veritable fast food — one good bite of melody and it's gone. Also, while few recipes are completely original, that tune and others like it, especially "Line Blues Line" sound a little too close to the saxman's acknowledged influence Steve Lacy and by extension the compositions of Lacy's former boss Thelonious Monk. This emulation is thrown into even bolder relief when the two tackle a quick theme and variation run through of Monk's "Misterioso".

Shadowed every step of the way by snares, tom toms, woodblocks and cymbals and bringing his tenor saxophone into play, Tracanna fares better on the this-side-of-outside "Punctus #4". Burly baritone saxophone's pratfalls and a harder drum attack make "Punctus #5" work. And, while the soprano may be on show in "Punctus #7" Favre's rolling patterns, that resemble Native American drumming, create something original by the end of the piece.

Even more auspicious are those tunes that give fuller reign to Favre's talents. On the percussionist's own composition "Dance and counterdance" — at 7:25 the longest track on the CD — he has the space to perform what sounds like a quiet tap dance on his kit. Tracanna also appears relaxed enough to switch from his excitable soprano to more moderated tenor saxophone tones, accompanying what appear to be shakers, cowbells, a family of cymbals and the percussionist's distinctive gigantic snare.

Tracanna fares much better in a drum duo than he did with a bassist, but PUNCTUS still isn't perfection. Maybe if he finds yet another instrumentalist who wants to go mano a mano with him, he may prove the truth of another expression: third time lucky.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Punctus #1 2. Clusone 3. Line Blues Line 4. Meditabonda 5. Punctus #4 6. Punctus #7 7. Pavia 8. Misterioso 9. Dance and counterdance 10. Punctus #3 11. Eterninnna 12. Punctus #5 13. Punctus #2 4. Punture

Personnel: Tino Tracanna (sopranino, soprano, tenor and baritone saxophones); Pierre Favre (percussion)