PATRIZIA SCASCITELLI

Live in Rome
Splasc(h) CDH 753.2

JOHN BLUM
Naked Mirror
Drimala DRTP 02-347-02

Solo piano sessions have been around almost as long as the history of jazz. As a matter of fact piano rolls and cylinders by the soloists like James P. Johnson and Jelly Roll Morton spread the new hot jass and stride music before flat disc came into existence.

Since that time every keyboardist seems to regard the singular recital as something he must master in order to prove his competence in his chosen idiom. But this history in black and white keys also provides a challenge, since every major pianist has performed alone at least part of the time. Such formidable antecedents as Earl Hines, Art Tatum, Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson and Cecil Taylor — to chose a half-dozen —have to their credit many exemplary solo sets, literally dozens in Tatum’s and Taylor’s case.

This is probably why neither John Blum’s or Patrizia Scascitelli’s CD can be heard as wholly triumphant, despite coming from opposite sides of the spectrum. Each has produced a defining statement, all right, but both appear not to have shaken off their influences enough to make these performances appear to be theirs alone.

Serendipitously both reside in New York, though their backgrounds couldn’t be any more dissimilar. Born in Rome — she moved stateside in 1981 — Scascitelli first studied classical piano at the conservatory, then jazz with veteran Italian improviser Giorgio Gaslini, who duets with her on the last track of this CD. One of the few woman who played modern jazz in Italy, she moved between free, bebop, fusion, Latin and traditional, worked with locals and Americans like trumpeter Don Cherry, and has been recording since 1974. In New York her associates have ranged from one era to another, including Swing songstress Maxine Sullivan, hard bop reed man Clifford Jordan, New Thing trumpeter Barbara Donald and fusion drummer Mike Clark.

Judging from this disc, recorded in a hometown concert in 2000 and a New York studio in 2001, her heart appears to be firmly fixed in the modern mainstream. Excluding four of her own compositions, every other number here is either a jazz standard or ballad standard from the so-called Golden Age of nightclubs and musical comedy.

If her approach is midtown or perhaps Upper East Side, then Blum’s is downtown, ‘way downtown — to the Lower East Side in fact. He’s someone who studied with avant-garde avatars like pianist Borah Bergman, trumpeter Bill Dixon and drummer Milford Graves. Today, Blum’s one of the musicians associated with freethinking bassist William Parker and his Vision Festivals and has also worked with other sonic explorers like drummer Jackson Krall, tubaist Joe Daley and multi-instrumentalist Cooper-Moore. This CD, recorded in 1999 is his first.

Ostensibly moving between the twin piano polarities of Evans and Peterson, Scascitelli brings a flowery, light touch and an unvarying sense of unhurried swing to her treatment of the standards, with every note perfectly in place like a lacquered hairstyle. Mistakes and rawness appear to be too unrefined for her to bother with, but except for a reharmonization of the beginning of “Caravan”, all the tunes sound pretty much how you would imagine them, with harmonies, pitch and note substitutions set. But the question remains: Does the world really need one more version of “Summertime” or “Here’s that Rainy Day”? Only “Zambo”, which does have an unfortunate loungy resemblance to Carole King’s “It’s Too Late, Baby” comes across as different, with its themes and counter themes bringing out a bit of novelty.

Perhaps made more conservative by her American sojourn, no hints of free playing show up, not even when she duets with her old teacher. Of course the two are trading licks on a medley of “Lover Man/Night in Tunisia” and Gaslini is, after all, in his early seventies. But for someone who was the original pianist in the Italian Instabile Orchestra and who provocatively transcribed Albert Ayler tunes for one of his solo piano discs, there doesn’t seem to be any more sparks flying here than what a couple of young neo-cons would produce.

Scascitelli’s originals are more proficient, if no less typical. But when they include the most foreign sounding blues imaginable and one called “Life and Death” with a treatment no more portentous than the others, you start to wonder about her commitment.

She may have her influences, but the looming spectre haunting Blum is that of Taylor. As a matter of fact there are times during his little more than 40-minute showcase where the sound could be Cecil Taylor recorded at 33 rpm played back at 78 rpm. Blum plays very severely, perhaps too strongly, using a lot of sustain pedal, tremolos, left handed chord clusters and probably smashing his thoughts with his palms onto the defenseless keys.

If nothing else, Blum seems to be frantically trying to cram all of his life work into these eight tracks. All his own compositions, the playing seems to be of one piece, but include several lesser influences wrapped within a studied “recitalism” that suggests images of flowing romantic 19th concertos played by men with equally romantic flowing manes of hair.

At times he seems to reference the colder, dense playing of someone like Lennie Tristano, while elsewhere, as on “Glowing, Pulsing” his technique is mechanical enough to risk comparison to a player piano or one of Conlon Nancarrow’s mechanized inventions. Then there are times he somehow has improvised lines that resemble the formal written style of early 20th century Viennese atonalists, especially on “Rain Dark Rain”.

Maybe the key comes on the title track, which features a section of what appears to be him playing duets with himself. Perhaps he’s trying to banish his champions that way; it may be the only place he relaxes enough to almost break into ballad time.

Interesting reports on how contemporary piano players are coping with the solo conundrum, these discs are worth investigation, although Blum’s is only available at www.drimala.com. But both pianists still appear to need more time to truly find their own identities.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Live: 1.Marvin’s Dream 2. Night and Day 3. Summer Time 4. Caravan 5. Lucky Number 6. What Is This Thing Called Love? 7. Life and Death 8. Samanta Blues 9. Here’s that Rainy Day 10. Zambo 11. Duet: Lover Man/Night in Tunisia*

Personnel: Live: Patrizia Scascitelli (piano); Giorgio Gaslini* (piano)

Track Listing: Naked: 1. Ethereal Plane 2. Rain Dark Rain 3. Heart Tumor 4. Consternation 5. Glowing, Pulsing 6. Dismal Cry 7. Silence Trickle 8. Naked Mirror

Personnel: Naked: John Blum (piano)