Paella & Norimaki
Splasc(H) Records CDH 730.2

Part of the long jazz tradition of food album titles that includes CHICKEN AND DUMPLINGS, CORNBREAD and KIDNEY STEW, PAELLA & NORIMAKI is another indication that no more than two chefs can create a scrumptious musical menu. The cooks here are two of Italy's most accomplished improvisers, multi-reedist Carlo Actis Dato and guitarist Enzo Rocco.

Since this is 2001, of course, the repasts are a little more cosmopolitan than those down home specialties celebrated in earlier compositions. Paella is Spanish and Norimaki Japanese, which as much as anything salutes the many countries in which the two musicians have played and the different musics that have influenced them. The motif is carried along into some of the titles of many of these 15 masterful miniatures, and recipes for both featured foods are included in the notes.

At home in seemingly any environment from solo recital to big bands, Turin-born Dato has been a new jazz pioneer since 1974 when he co-founded the Art Studio Group. Today he divides his time between his own bands and the Italian Instabile Orchestra. The career trajectory of Rocco, a guitarist from Crema is a little different. Almost as well-travelled as Dato, he has adapted folkloric and romantic themes into his compositions, created music for singers and theatre productions plus worked with hard core international improvisers and more conventional jazz groups.

Not afraid to whistle while they work, the two spice their creations with hearty handfuls of good humor. On "Bambù", for instance they hand clap and harmonize in Italian on the chorus, transforming what otherwise could be heard as a difficult tune into good time music. It's the same on "Mondo giusto" where baritone saxophone belches and staccato guitar chords are suddenly interrupted by what's probably a vocal dig at Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Nevertheless, immediately afterwards, on the ballad "Lu", the duo proves they can perform — or is it prepare — a soufflé-light, folksy composition as skillfully as they can throw hot peppers of satire into other tunes. With such a small kitchen staff, neither is the sous-chef, but takes turns passing the creation from one set of hands to another. Rocco's Latin tune, "Habablanca", for instance starts off with Dato's melodic tenor saxophone accompanied by lilting chording from the composer. When roles reverse, the saxophonist plays backing counterpoint while Rocco brings what could be a bluegrass mandolin attack to his single note solos; then they switch again. Practitioners of an Italian version of novelle cuisine, they know when to leave the compositions short and force the listener to salivate for more.

A mixmaster filled with Italian, Spanish, Oriental, Balkan and Improvised themes, this CD should be another well-thumbed page in the burgeoning Italian jazz cookbook. Even after it ends, you're still hungry for more music — and the good food to go with it.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Mammamia! 2 Keffah? 3. Nakamura Song 4. Bambù 5. Habablanca 6. Faccia di pollo 7. Mandolinho 8. Vilnius 9. Ode to Henry Chinaski 10. Zarate 11. Entoeca 12. Ambrabbà 13. Mondo giusto 14. Lu 15. Rumba Bamba

Personnel: Carlo Actis Dato (tenor and baritone saxophones, bass clarinet); Enzo Rocco (guitar)