Litania Siblante
Enja ENJ-9405-2

Imagine, if you will, an exceptional big band made up of nearly every top jazz poll winner in the United States which tours the country playing mostly original compositions. Got the picture? Unbelievable? Well you've just conjured up the position of the Italian Instabile Orchestra in the contemporary European music scene.

Initially created as a one-time jazz festival supersession by trumpeter Pino Minafra in 1990, the musicians played together so well that the Instabile was reconstituted on a permanent basis. It now works as frequently as the country pre-eminent improvisers can take the time from their other commitments.

This newly recorded session — the band's fourth CD — not only offers sly reconstitutions of some of the Instabile's "greatest hits", but also boosts the band's membership to 20, adding quixotic trumpeter Rava and ingenious accordionist Salis. As with its other discs, the results are nothing short of spectacular.

Consider "Sequence Fughe", for instance. No orthodox "sequence and fugue", it's instead a multicolored composition that segues from a burnished balladic beginning, probably courtesy of Rava, to a freewheeling call and response reed interlude that suggests what the Second Herd might have sounded like if the World Saxophone Quartet had replaced the Four Brothers. It then bypasses some recitation in English, Italian and French and crescendos with a Mingusian explosion. No matter what happens, the group never loses its basic swinging pulse. Imagine if those heavily subsidized American jazz repertory bands could do the same.

"Scarlattina" and "Litania Siblante", truncated versions of that were included on the band's 1998 INSTABILE FESTIVAL CD on Leo, are given full scope here. Despite its title and Petrin's semi-classical thematic variations, the first, a flag waver, alive with endless screaming brass, seems to owe more to Stan Kenton's Latin experiments than the 17th Century Italian composer. Has it been determined, by the way, whether Maynard Ferguson's a secret Italian idol?

Related most to classical orchestration, the later tune has a menacing theme carried by the reeds and brass, somewhat relieved by what could be a baroque string ensemble and some airy Germania arco work. Different sections come to the fore in turn, but unlike a straight symphonic piece, Salis' accordion and Schiano's recitation are as much a part of the conception as the "legitimate" instruments.

On his own, the alto saxophonist forges a 21st Century "Lover Man", reinterpreting the tune without compromising its balladic heart, as he has been doing with other standards for more than 35 years.

"Herr Fantozzi" , simply titled "Fantozzi" when Minafra recorded it on his 1995 SUDORI CD on Victo, is a bouncy Loony Tune come to life, with the brassman jiving and scatting along, while laboring like any other good Vaudevillian to send the audience home happy. This version is even more animated then it's first outing, with the accordion's natural airiness added to the mix.

If this CD can be faulted at all, it's that none of the soloists are identified on each track, which in a band with four trumpeters and three trombonists, to take one instance, can be upsetting. Furthermore the instrumentation listed seems a little chary. A baritone saxophone heard is probably Actis Dato's and from experience, it's a sure bet that Tononi has unleashed his percussion sleight of hands as well as playing drums.

Instabile fans will demand this disc. Others who have not yet discovered them could do no better than to enter here.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Scarlattina 2. Sequence Fughe 3. Litania Siblante 4. M 42 5. Lover Man 6. Herr Fantozzi

Personnel: Alberto Mandarini, Enrico Rava, Pino Minafra Guido Mazzon (trumpet); Lauro Rossi, Sebi Tramontana, Gincarlo Schiaffini (trombone); Martin Mayes (French horn); Mario Schiano (alto saxophone and voice); Daniele Cavallanti (tenor saxophone); Eugenio Colombo (soprano saxophone and flute); Renato Germania (alto saxophone and violin); Gianluigi Trovesi (soprano and alto saxophones, clarinet); Carlo Actis Dato (baritone saxophone, bass clarinet); Umberto Petrin (piano); Antonello Salis (accordion); Giovanni Maier (bass); Paolo Domino (cello); Vincent Mizzen, Tisane Tononi (drums, percussion)