Perfect Quartet
Jazz’Halo TS014

Whether by accident or design, when given the chance, drummers make good bandleaders. An understanding of a group’s innate rhythmic properties apparently aids them in coupling together different parts into a unified whole. This perception goes even deeper when, as on this fine CD, the percussionist writes all the material. With the shape of the compositions set, the pieces fall into place.

Furthermore, even though the seven compositions here are cast in a standard horns and rhythm grouping, veteran Italian drummer Francesco Branciamore has made sure that his tunes are carefully voiced and arranged, with the tracks a lot more than a round robin of solos. While each member of his so-called “perfect quartet” gets enough space to assert himself, no one wears out his welcome.

Of course, Branciamore has had experience in intelligent formations himself. He’s someone who more than a decade as part of the December Thirty Jazz Trio, with bassist Giuseppe Guarrella, also featured on this CD, and pianist Giorgio Occhipinti, whose large scale Hereo Nonetto includes Branciamore and Guarrella. On his own the drummer has played with international musicians like the American Lee Konitz and Britain’s Evan Parker and led a band that includes French tubaist Michel Godard and British trombonist Paul Rutherford.

That mixture of brass and reed tones is highlighted here as well. On the descriptively titled “Hurry”, for instance Elio Amato’s speedy, staccato trombone notes trade fours with Gaetano Cristofaro’s expressive alto saxophone, over an underpinning of rim shots and walking bass. Mostly a jazzy finger-snapper, the tune begins to suggest Italian banda music as the melody accelerates before the end.

Multi-instrumentalists, Amato and Cristofaro extend the quartet sound further switching among their instruments. The reedman, for example, who plays classical music as well as jazz, unveils a liquid Benny Goodman-style clarinet on “Dryshot”. Sticking to the coloratura range, he’s a study in contrast to the trombonist’s modern tailgate styling on the same track.

Amato, whose experience encompasses work with the orchestra dell’Opera di Roma and the Washington Symphony, often turns to his mellow flugelhorn for proper instrumental blend, yet is almost strictly a ‘bone man when it comes to soloing. Even muted and on a rickety-tick melody like “Cristoff”, though, his well-modulated tone is implicitly modern. Modern too is Branciamore’s propulsive collection of military-style paradiddles, brush strokes and rim shots. He manages to propel the tune as easily as Baby Dodds would a two-beat classic, though no Trad warhorse ever had anything like the authoritative arco section that Guarrella exhibits here.

Using his snare like a kettledrum — or maybe there was a kettledrum in the studio — Branciamore employs this distinctive beat to create themes on “Monky” and its companion “Magic Moment”, which when in full flight, could have been created by an Italian version of the Jazz Messengers. Cristofaro, this time on soprano saxophone, utilizes its aviary properties to come front-and-centre on the first tune, but when it comes to vamp the themes back and forth with Amato’s trombone, pulls out the larger sax. Strategy on both tunes is for the reedist to repeat the particular riffs over and over, while the trombonist uses his hand or a metal bucket mute to dig out gritty, half-valve tones. Finally here, as with other quick stop-and-start lines, Branciamore uses his roughest attack to propel everyone back to the clearly stated theme.

Neither neo-cons nor outright sonic experimenters, these four men instead play outstanding, rhythmically challenging music that is digested as smoothly as high quality Italian wine. When all the sounds adjoin as clearly as in the successful reconstruction of a Roman artifact, they become, without question, a perfect quartet

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Dryshot 2. Cristoff 3. Hurry 4. Tiptoe 5. Monky 6. Magic Moment 7. Double Phase

Personnel: Elio Amato (trombone and flugelhorn); Gaetano Cristofaro (soprano and alto saxophones, clarinet); Giuseppe Guarrella (bass); Francesco Branciamore (drums)