TI SHA MAN NAN SAXOPHONE QUARTET

Ripescando
Splasc(H) CDH 743.2

What's wrong with having fun? Nothing, as this fine CD proves.

If there's any non-musical attribute that Italian improvisers have brought to the jazz scene over the past 15 years, is that it's all right to have a sense of humor. Soloists such as reedist Carlo Actis Dato and trumpeter Pino Minafra have proved over and over again that you can easily function at the highest artistic level, while still ensuring the audience has a good time.

The Ti Sha Man Nah saxophone quartet (TSMNSQ) isn't at that exalted summit. But anyone listening is as likely to confuse the four with super serious American saxophone ensembles like The World Saxophone Quartet or ROVA as they would to mix up Roberto Benigni and Primo Levi. Like a mini Sun Ra Arkestra, the TSMNSQ members have been known to disrupt festival performances by bursting into a theatre enthusiastically harmonizing on some tune, which they continue playing until they're out of the theatre and back onto the street.

A program of standards and originals, RIPESCANDO is certainly the hippest CD ever made that features an accordion plus versions of "Nel Blue dipinto di Blu" ("Volare") and "Funiculi, Funicula". That's another point, besides the TSMNSQ, which has been together since 1991, the disc features contributions from trumpeter Marco Tamburni, trombonist Roberto Rossi and the accordion styling of Simon Zanchini.

Listen to the eight minute version of "Funiculi, Funicula", for instance to see how the band operates. Beginning the tune sweetly playing the melody like the sax section of Les Brown's Band of Renown, the four take turns providing call and response variations on it with Stefano Fariselli's baritone saxophone providing most of the so-called sax percussion. Earlier, on "Nel Blue dipinto di Blu", the melody only reveals itself in the middle when it's played by trombone and accordion. Soon, as the horns riff in the background, Tamburni, a veteran improviser, who has played with everyone from Slide Hampton to Steve Lacy begins deconstructing the tune with a dirty, jungle-style tone.

Accordionist Zanchini, who has plied his trade with jazz, ethnic and tango bands and even at Milan's La Scala gets an extended workout on "Boca di Rosa", which ranges from slurred rhythm passages to forcing machine gun-like sounds from his sideways keyboard. After playing off against the trumpet, the tune ends with Zanchini riffing, the others hand clapping and a couple of tough tenor saxophone solos.

Saxman Fabio Petretti, who did most of the arrangements here, utilizes all the different horns —including his clarinet and Gianluca Mattei's flute — in as many novel combinations as he can. The results veer closer to finger snapping bop than free sounds, most of the time, but except for some for the harmonies on "Il mio Canto Libero", he managed to skirt easy listening territory.

RIPESCANDO is no earth shaker and no historically important document. But it is an interesting mainstream session that will probably make you smile. What better recommendation could there be than that?

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Prologo 2. Rosalia 3. 4/3/43 4. Nel Blue dipinto di Blu 5. Non c'è pace tra gli ulivi 6. Boca di Rosa 7. Il mio Canto Libero 8. Funiculi, Funicula 9. Epilogo

Personnel: Fabio Petretti (soprano and tenor saxophones, clarinet, sax percussion); Gianluca Mattei (alto saxophone, flute, sax percussion); Stefano Fariselli (baritone saxophone, sax percussion); Carlo Fabbri (alto and tenor saxophones sax percussion); plus Marco Tamburni (trumpet); Roberto Rossi (trombone); Simone Zanchini (accordion)