To Include
Splasc (H) Records CHD 771.2

Splasc (H) Records CHD 767.2

Like the primacy of the church in the Middle Ages, mainstream bop seems to have dominion over the definition of jazz no matter where it’s played. That’s why for North Americans, the chief interest in these two discs by journeymen Italian jazzers is how well they function within the accepted idiom.

Not all improvised music has to be experimental — there can be run-of-the-mill Energy music as easily as risk-taking Dixieland — but if the members of this quintet and this quintet are going to limit their parameters to the music that has become jazz’s norm since the 1950s, you want to see what of their own the players bring to it.

LINKS ends up being more impressive than TO INCLUDE. Despite the parallel age and experience of the musicians, the later seems to be one more studio session thrown together to let some guys blow in a loose, hard bop vein, while the former appears to have put together by four musicians with some forethought.

To be honest, the most original part of the tunes on TO INCLUDE, written and performed by leader, pianist Luigi Bonafede in quartet and quintet formations, is that woodwind player Mauro Negri often uses his clarinet to solo, rather than his alto saxophone. Hard bop clarinetists are practically non-existent and the countermelody of decidedly pre-modern trills he introduces to “Obstinate” gives this foot tapper that seems to derive from the 1960s Miles Davis Quintet, or maybe Shelly Manne and his Men, a different shape. Mantova-born Negri, who leads his own band and has been a member of French drummer Aldo Romano’s quartet, is capable of more though. His 1999 appearance with Slovenian drummer Zlatko Kaucic in Gorizia produced an outstanding duo disc. Meanwhile, at one point here, drummer Mauro Beggio, who played regularly with the Enrico Pieranunzi trio almost turns the beat around, while bassist Lucio Terzano has a totally unnecessary solo, which seems to be there for fairness rather than musical grounds.

Here and on “Dolecemente”, a slow moving, gospelish lament for quartet, trumpeter Flavio Boltro, who was in French pianist Michel Petrucciani’s sextet and records with saxophonist Stefano Di Battista seems to see the perimeters of his style as pre-and-post fusion Davis. He has the Harmon mute all right, but none of the originality. ON “T.G.V.”, in fact, he sounds like he’s blowing under water.

Negri’s facility playing Cannonball Adderley-style alto is revealed on “To Steve”, where he even indulges in some double-timing and produces higher-pitched freak note. But that’s not too far out for the 1970s-style shuffle rhythm the drummer is producing on this quartet track, where if the bassist walked any more he’d be pounding a beat.

Milan-born Bonafede, who has been a major part of the Italian scene since the 1970s, shows that his heart is still in that decade with the pieces here that wouldn’t have sounded out of place played by groups in that decade led by Woody Shaw or Dexter Gordon. Someone who has also written arrangements for the Barga Jazz orchestra, he’s versatile enough to have played as a drummer in a trio with bassist Riccardo Del Fra and pianist Franck Avitabile. Maybe that why his piano playing here is pleasant and craftsman-like, but scarcely breathtaking. There are any number of younger Americans, , who can play this way. Seemingly approaching light swingers and flowery ballads the same way, his approach is like one of those faceless bop craftsmen like Gildo Mahones, who could accompany fiery Texas tenor Ervin one day and jivey singers Lambert Hendricks & Ross the next, without exerting much individuality. Pleasant is a good enough adjective for this disc. But is that enough in the 21st Century?

An altogether more appetizing product, LINKS gets its name from the six solo motifs that connect longer compositions by the quartet’s three writers, tenor saxophonist Gigi Di Gregorio, pianist Luigi Martial and bassist Andrea Pejrolo. Drummer Paolo Franciscone plays faceless Dallas Taylor to those three’s variation on Crosby, Stills & Nash’s first disc.

While these links are really the only original concept on this CD, the four seems to have an idea of what they want to offer and have thought out the arrangements to such an extent that the jam session shortcoming of everyone having to solo on every number is avoided. No new ground is broken. But the session is fast-moving enough despite its 15 tracks, to earn comparison to those buoyant quartet dates Stan Getz and Zoot Sims use to put out with a variety of rhythm sections, or the few that added John Coltrane to pianist Red Garland’s trio.

Di Gregorio, who has played with the GianPaolo Petrini Big Band and led his own quartets, is most successful approximating the lazy, relaxed swing mixed with pure emotionalism in which Sims excelled, especially when he’s modulating a solo on a ballad like his own “Judo”, a quasi bossa nova. Martinale’s gossamer touch is impressive too, both on a light and bouncy swinger like his “Dancing in a Ring”, or when he strengthens his attack with some modal turns elsewhere.

But the keyboardist who is a member of the Trane’s Memory quartet and has recorded a trio session with American bassist Drew Gress and drummer Franciscone, sometimes lets his background in so-called cultivated European music predominate. That’s especially apparent on a slinky funk vamp like “The Moon is Flying too Low” or the hard-bop ballad, “Last night by the Water”, both written by bassist Pejrolo. What’s needed here is for him to ooze out some hard, right-handed work song rhythm, the way Bobby Timmons or Garland could do without pausing for thought. Martinale tries, but his faultless execution without a 64th note out of place, defeats the spontaneity. There’s no workingman’s sweat in his performance.

Professional as all get out, with a strong, ringing tone like the late Ray Brown’s, the bassist holds up his end of the rectangle without any trouble. New York-based and a technician who has studied music in both the U.S. and United Kingdom, Pejrolo has a Ph.D. in Jazz Compositions/Performance from New York University, teaches part time, has done MIDI programming and engineering for studio sessions and Broadway shows, written for soap operas, played with a clutch of modern mainstreamers, and held down a weekly gig at Manhattan’s Birdland.

All told, the outstanding tune is “Yes I Have” by Martinale. Reminiscent of “Have You Met Miss Jones?” it floats along on tap-dancing brush work from Franciscone, who performs with Jo Jones’ facility. The pianist comps with authority and the saxophonist’s tone is so light that you’d almost swear it gets into flute territory.

LINKS shows how musicians can mold the tradition to their initiatives and what can produced that way. Remember their names.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Include: 1. Poker 2. Adagio 3. “Eleo” 4. To Steve 5. Dolcemente 6. Obstinate 7. T. G.V.

Personnel: Include: Flavio Boltro (trumpet); Mauro Negri (alto saxophone and clarinet); Luigi Bonafede (piano); Luciano Tarzano (bass); Mauro Beggio (drums)

Track Listing: Links 1. Crash 2. Link #1 3. Dancing in a Ring 4. Link #2 5. Yes I have 6. Trouble Shooting 7. Link #3 8. The Moon is Flying too Low 9. Link #4 10. Last night by the Water 11. Judo 12. Link #5 13. A mode for Sally 14. Link #6 15. Valter

Personnel: Links: Gigi Di Gregorio (tenor saxophone); Luigi Martinale (piano); Andrea Pejrolo (bass); Paolo Franciscone (drums)