Castel Del Monte
Enja ENJ -9362-2

Imagine eight 13th century troubadours suddenly showing up on stage at the Village Vanguard and producing sounds that are as influenced by the memories of medieval castles as contemporary urban sensibilities and you'll get some idea of this atmospheric session.

French tubaist Michel Godard is one among many European musicians who are trying to evolve an improvised music true to that continent's rather than North American roots. With CASTEL DEL MONTE, he and his seven associates have created an intriguing CD that is a sound picture of this mysterious castle in the remote Apulian countryside of Italy. Built by Frederick II (1194-1250), Roman emperor and king of Sicily, Castel del Monte is a immense, isolated octagon that includes an octagonal courtyard plus octagonal towers at the eight corners.

No one in the succeeding eight centuries has been able to fathom the castle's purpose, but impressed by its mysterious historical bulk, the tubaist, gathered an octet of French, Italian and Swiss players to create music within it. Over three days, thanks to the structure's superb acoustics, most of the tracks were recorded outdoors in the castle's inner courtyard. The results are simultaneously ghostly and dream-like with modern improvised sounds brushing against such early musical dance forms as the chaconne, folia and tarantella.

At 41, Godard has the sort of variegated background that allowed him to attempt such a grandiose project. A veteran of such disparate aggregations as l'Ensemble Musique vivante, l'Orchestre National de Jazz, the Arban Chamber Brass quintet and bands led by the likes of Lebanese oudist Rabih Abou-Khalil, French clarinetist Louis Sclavis and Swiss drummer Pierre Favre, he also has his own group that features Linda Bsiri's voice.

Both Bsiri and Favre are present here, and of his other sidemen, the Italians — rootsy trumpeter Pino Minafra and woodwind master Gianluigi Trovesi — have, in the past, successfully created similar ethnic-jazz sessions.

Throughout this disc you feel as if you're simultaneously hearing sounds from the 13th as well as the 21st century. On "Serpent d'Or", for instance, vocalists Bsiri and Lucilla Galeazzi construct a strain that could easily be conflated with a period madrigal. Yet on "Murmures" and "Magnificat" the former's wordless vocals showcase the sort of playful, high register inflections that you would expect from a singer working on the farthest reaches of the contemporary avant garde.

"Serpent d'Or" also finds Minafra's hunting horn cadenzas contrasting nicely with the natural melancholy produced by the big brassman's serpent, a smaller, early marching band tuba. "Canto Della Sibila", a traditional air arranged by Godard, uses the ghostly natural echoes of the castle to amplify Favre's work on what seems to be dozens of cymbals and showcases more of Bsiri speaking in tongues.

Trovesi's liquid clarinet tone brings to mind the medieval crumhorn at the beginning of the folia "C'era Una Strega, C'era Una Fata". But, soon that instrument and Jean-Louis Martinier's accordion squeezes start to swing in the literal 20th century definition backed by some jumpy tuba toots.

Infectious country dances like tarantella "Ah! Vita Bella" share space with recitations such as "La Muntagnella" or "Cathedrale Sans Nom", which seem more Sci Fi Theatre than medieval fables. Meanwhile bassist Renaud Garcia-Fons can appear to be playing a viola rooted in Puglia Region at some times, and a walking bass recorded by Prestige Records another.

Godard's is one conception of to how to adopt personal and historical circumstances to express original musical ideas. This disc shows it's one path that definitely should encourage similar explorations.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Ciaconna 2. La Muntagnella 3. Serpent d'Or 4. C'era Una Strega, C'era Una Fata 5. Canto Della Sibila 6. Huit 7. Preghiera 8. Un 9. Ah! Vita Bella 10. Crisbell 11. Le Vent Respire 12. Magnificat 13. Una Serenata 14. Cathedrale Sans Nom 15. Murmures 16. Voi Che Amate

Personnel: Pino Minafra (trumpet, flugelhorn); Michel Godard (tuba, serpent); Gianluigi Trovesi (alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet); Jean-Louis Martinier (accordion); Renaud Garcia-Fons (bass); Pierre Favre (drums, percussion); Lucilla Galeazzi (vocals); Linda Bsiri (vocals, trumpet marin)