PREVISIONI DEL TEMPO/FORECAST: Italian Instabile Orchestra

Co-ordinated by Francesco Martinelli and Massimo Iudicone

CD editing and mastering plus English translation: Martin Mayes
ImPrint Books/CD IM 003
(Available from www.ijm.it/instabile)

Imagine, if you can, an 18-piece American big band made up of the top jazz and improvised music standard bearers of the past 40 years which tours the world playing original compositions. Sound fanciful? Well, Italy’s Italian Instabile Orchestra (IIO) has been able top pull off such a feat for the past 12 years.

Brainchild of trumpeter Pino Minafra and guided for its first decade by promoter Riccardo Bergerone, the IIO did all that and more. A true all-star aggregation, the band members come from all over the country. They include Italian free jazz pioneers like trombonist Gincarlo Schiaffini and alto saxophonist Mario Schiano lined up with contemporary stylists such as multi-reedists Gianluigi Trovesi and Carlo Actis Dato. Even younger musicians like trombonist Beppe Caruso and Achille Succi are sometimes also on board. An American equivalent would be to have veterans like Chicago saxophonist Fred Anderson and New York pianist Cecil Taylor regularly touring in big band formation with contemporary masters like Brooklyn saxophonist Tim Berne and San Diego trombonist George Lewis, with that aggregation also featuring younger players like Bay area bassist Damon Smith, New York keyboardist Craig Taborn and Boston trumpeter Greg Kelley.

Still, one of the purposes for the IIO and the creation of this book-and-CD set is to reaffirm Italian jazzers independence from their American antecedents. Surely, as anyone who has ever heard the IIO or individual Italian soloists knows, this is apparent in the improvisations. But, not unlike the situation that exists to some extent with the theorists in experimental American free jazz, few scores of the breakthrough compositions by these musicians exist to be studied by music students and utilized by musicologists.

Negating the titanic work of transcribing from recordings, this book offers up 24 pages of handwritten scores of six of the IIO’s most distinctive conceptions. They are saxophonist Eugenio Colombo’s “Scongiuro”; saxophonist Daniele Cavallanti’s “Minutes”; Schiaffini’s “Concert Grasso”; Schiano’s distinctive version of the standard “Lover Man” and his own “Sud” — arranged by Colombo; and Actis Dato’s “AEIO”.

Not only does the format of the volume then allow each composer space to discuss his piece in musicological (Cavallanti), historical (Schiano), or poetic (Actis Dato) detail, but recent live performances of the tunes are performed on the CD included with the volume. On it, CD editor Martin Mayes, who also the IIO’s French hornist, has programmed the pieces so that the result resembles what could be termed a typical IIO concert. For scholars and students as well, index points have been inserted throughout the disc for easy access and study of the music. Still, the disc shouldn’t be confused with one of those Music Minus One extravaganzas. A regular listener can enjoy the compositions without ever knowing which note is being sounded or which chord substitution has been made. There’s also an eight page photographic portfolio of the band in performance over the years in different locales.

That’s not all this package offers either. Within the text, musicologist/journalist Francesco Martinelli discusses each composition and performance in detail, providing the background for the performers and their work(s) and showing how this particular piece is similar to or different than other versions of it by the IIO. This run-through of “Sud” is particularly noteworthy, for example, since the late Art Ensemble of Chicago trumpeter Lester Bowie sat in with the band for this 1998 performance in Vignola, Italy.

During the past few years convergence has usually meant large conglomerates yoking their print, broadcasting and software divisions together for economies of scale actually resulting in less information available for consumers. On the other hand, by coupling this bilingual (Italian-English) book and more than 72½-minute CD, FORECAST, shows that when used for a good cause, a minor version of convergence can be a good thing.

— Ken Waxman