Serial Killer
Slasc(h) CDH826.2

Role model for any aspiring musician, Rome-based keyboardist Riccardo Fassi involves himself of all aspects of the “jazz business” in Italy. Besides teaching piano at the university level and composing film scores, he has won magazine awards for album he has created with smaller groups and with his Tankio Band, which has been together with few personnel changes since 1983.

This, his latest big band outing is very impressive in spots, but suffers from one of professionalism’s defects: as a teacher and studio hand who must do many things well, he appears to have adopted too many musical personas as his own. With a CD consisting of 11 tunes that range from jazz-rock to light orchestral swing to grandiloquent ballads to program music, with a light dusting of avant garde devices, you sometimes feel like asking the real Riccardo Fassi to please stand up.

Again it should be stressed that most of the music here is technically excellent, it just feels pretty bloodless. Take his excursions into fusion on the title track, for instance. Original enough to feature as lead voice Sardinian accordionist Antonello Salis, vocally harmonizing with his instrument, it still sounds like a big band pastiche of jazz-rock licks. On side there’s the lighter than air soprano saxophone soloist, an overbearing, percussive electric bassist — who only plays on half the tracks — and overemphasis on an unvarying drum pattern. Fassi describes the arrangement as dodecaphonic but it sounds closer to Special EFX than Schoenberg.

Another creative touch is dividing the foreground between guest violinist Ruben Chaviano and alto man Sandro Satta on “Naked City”. Relating neither to the American TV show theme song nor John Zorn’s album of the same name, the fiddle lead and Alfredo Minotti’s Latinesque percussion flourishes soon fall victim to that deadly fusion beat and Satta’s reliance on a David Sanborn-like tone. This is a disappointment after the alto man had earlier asserted his individuality on “Serial Killer (part 2)”.

Similarly, Massimo Pirone’s subterranean bass trombone work is the only highlight of “Raptus”, built around another simplistic beat and featuring a solo from guest trumpeter Enrico Rava in muted pop-jazz territory. The general feel is of one of those “rockers for the youngsters” tunes from a Buddy Rich’s 1970s big band album.

Additionally, featuring Rava on both parts of “Solstizio D’Estate (Summer Solstice)” merely proves that the composer, soloist and the band can perform this dreamy sort of ballad with the same sort of snoozy quietude that Guido Basso brings to outings from Toronto’s Boss Brass. Something that wouldn’t disturb the most reactionary sweet band fan, it’s hard to believe that this trumpeter played with sonic explorers like Steve Lacy and Louis Moholo in the 1960s.

Much better are the straightforward blues of “Modular Blue” and “Anfibi”, which (finally!) bring in Gianluca Renzi on acoustic bass instead of Pirozzi. Playing tuba, Pirone shines again on this number, unafraid to plunge to the very depths of the unwieldy beast. Fassi also weighs in with some Prestige/Blue Note funk organ and — an original touch — Rava and Tankio’s two regular trumpeters combine into a brassy trio spitting out notes with different modulations, tones and pitches.

Inspired by a skipping theme, “Anfibi” is an exciting “conduction”, with the lines passed back-and-forth between full-bodied trombonist Mario Corvini, Salis and Fassi, playing mainstream piano, while muted trumpets cushion the solos in the background.

Finally and distressingly, Fassi’s arrangement of Ennio Morricone’s theme for “Indagine (Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion)” brings into even bolder relief the different between an exceptional craftsman like himself and a true original like the composer. Featuring the one-time appearance of drummer Ettore Fioravanti — and Renzi’s acoustic bass — its more than 11 minutes of different musicians, including Fassi himself, duetting with the guest drummer on Morricone’s tango-like theme. Working both as memorable thematic music and a base on which to spotlight improvisations, the tune allows the musicians to exercise their improv chops at length.

With the home truth that Fassi isn’t yet in Morricone’s class definitely displayed by this number, one can still hope that eventually the keyboardist will reach that plateau. Perhaps if he concentrated on creating a Fassi style, rather than a pastiche of many sonic colors, he would fare better. This may be a fine CD for modern big band fanciers, but don’t search for any great originality here.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Serial Killer (part 1)*+@ 2. Serial Killer (part 2)+@ 3. Modular Blue#+@ 4. Anfibi*+^ 5. Naked City%@ 6. One for Leonardo#*@ 7. Solstizio D’Estate (duo intro)#^ 8. Solstizio D’Estate (theme)#* 9. Raptus#@^ 10. Intro* 11. Indagine*^$

Personnel: Enrico Rava #, Claudio Corvini, Gincarlo Ciminelli (trumpet); Mario Corvini (trombone); Massimo (tuba, bass trombone); Riccardo Luppi (flute, piccolo)*; Sandro Satta (alto saxophone); Michel Audisso (soprano and alto saxophone); Torquato Sdrucia (baritone saxophone); Ruben Chaviano (violin)%; Riccardo Fassi (piano, organ, synthesizer); Antonello Salis (accordion)+; Luca Pirozzi (electric bass)@; Gianluca Renzi (bass)^; Pietro Iodice, Ettore Fioravanti$ (drums); Alfredo Minotti (percussion)