Ginosa Jungle
Splasc(h) Records CDH 710.2

If Carlo Actis Dato didn't exist someone — perhaps other Italians — would have to invent him.

The multi-reed linchpin of the Italian Instabile Orchestra, Sudori and a melange of other southern European bands — including a few of his own — Actis Dato is the prototypical modern Italian jazzman.

At home with funk, Middle Eastern, South American, classical Italian and just about any other sounds you can shake a pasta strainer at, he's equally proficient on saxophones and clarinets, but reserves his most robust playing for his baritone sax, with a tone as deep as the Mediterranean. Oh, and he isn't averse to donning a pair of Mr. Spock ears and cavorting around the stage if that will help the music alone.

The lucky burghers of Brugge, Belgium got a treat when this quartet rolled into town — on April Fool's Day — and the resulting live session is pinpoints exactly what these four music masters can create.

With two horns in the front line the band can be anything it wants to be from slippery klezmer group to precise marching band to slinky tango orchestra to the sort of Marachi band which hides behind the matador at a bull fight. And while it's clearly Actis Dato's show — all compositions are by him along with most of the solos — the other musicians get chances to shine as well.

On "Manouche", for instance Ponzo lets loose with some arching, Pisa tower-like skewed clarinet passages, while Actis Dato sticks to baritone riff backdrop. Fazio introduces "Jagua Nana" with intense, guitar-like intonation before the main tune careens like a Roman highway back and forth between a horn-driven swinger and a South American mambo. And, like a Spartan soldier, Sordini knows his place. He never overwhelms the soloists, but keeps the rhythm flowing smoothly with specific percussion accents while tossing in some mean bow screeches on "Djolibà".

Actis Dato, of course is a marvel as he ricochets between his three horns. Stop time baritone riffs first shape a tune like "Aeroflot", then gradually let it dissolve into march tempo — is it Russian soldiers or Volga boatmen? — then resolve itself as a little dance. Encouraging vocalism isn't alien to the saxist's presentation either — check the mini-vaudeville chants near the end of "Cuarto Alegres" for instance.

Caesar came, saw and conquered Gaul. The Actis Dato Four did the same thing in Belgium, creating more festivity in the process.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Finalmente si balla 2. Salsangò 3. Cecenia 4. A la Martinique 5. Sahel 6. Black out 7. Jagua Nana 8. Aeroflot 9. Bossa di Bisceglie 10. Manouche 11. Djolibà 12. Cuarto Alegres

Personnel: Carlo Actis Dato (tenor and baritone saxophones, bass clarinet); Piero Ponzo (alto saxophone, clarinet); Enrico Fazio (bass); Fiorenzo Sordini (drums, percussion, bow)