My Mind is on the Table
Splasc (H) Records CDH 782.2

Free For 3
Jazz’halo TS 017

Blood still pulses through the body of the traditional jazz piano trio. But, as these two Italian groups prove, you have to give the corpus a POMO vitamin and mineral transfusion for the physique to be as lively as it was in the past.

Each band does that here in a different way. Pianist Giorgio Pacorig’s crew, completed by bassist Giovanni Maier and drummer Zeno de Rossi does so by mixing mid-tempo originals with sprightly recreations of modern standards and one giveaway salute. Each of the players also has enough work in other aggregations to make this session a breezy busman’s holiday.

December Thirty — reason for name unknown — has been first priority among many others for its trio members since 1989. First and foremost a Sicilian band, it brings the islanders’ sardonic view of the world to the fore, expressed here in three suites of all- original compositions, some of which are a little more jaundiced than celebratory.

Two Ornette Coleman tunes — “Peace” and “WRU” — recast as freebop romps may give you an idea of what Pacorig’s trio is up to, but the real giveaway is the pianist’s own composition, “The legendary Hasaan”, celebrating the eccentric Philadelphia pianist. Hasaan Ibn Ali made only one album, in 1964, but it was one that featured drummer Max Roach and bassist Art Davis. Both those men were on board because Hasaan created a personal accommodation with the bop ethos — and the Pacorig three do the same. Played andante, with cascading chord patterns and a strong dramatic sharp timbre, the tines original twists and turns demonstrate how many trio pieces may pass neo-con inspection, yet also offer up subversive pleasures.

Take “Downtown” — not the Petula Clark hit, thank goodness. It’s a faster-than-usual ballad, where an expansive, mutant polonaise is given a Latinesque twist. Pacorig’s two-handed approach makes the stately dance rhythms confirm to standard jazz piano trio beat — imagine Red Garland or Bill Evans — even if the tempo may be a little slower than acceptable. Maier — who has also recorded with American reedist Chris Speed — produces a bass solo that in temperament fits ball-in-socket bass with Pacorig's work, like Paul Chambers’ did with Garland.

“L’orso”[“The Bear’], another composition from the Trieste-born pianist, plays to his varied background, which has ranged from accompanying singer Elisa to jazz-World Music gigs with the likes of drummer U.T. Ghandi and woodwind player Gianluigi Trovesi. Lyrical, with harmonically sophisticated arpeggios at its core, the tune snakes around in-and-out of impressionism, with one section that almost sounds like galloping cowboy music. Pacorig’s command of dynamics allows him to plays as softly as needed, sometimes producing remarkable full-keyboard glissandos; at other times superimposing notes one on top of one another; and in still others clipping the keys in double time.

Drummer De Rossi, whose playing experiences include Klezmer, straight out Swing and contemporary jazz CDs with American like Speed and accordionist Ted Reichman, makes his rim shots extend Pacorig’s tinkling piano notes on this tune. Meanwhile, his tap-dancing tempo subtlety on “WRU” joins with a spectacular, percussive double-stopping Maier display and the pianist’s chording to transform the Coleman line into a foot-tapping swinger.

Unlike Pacorig’s freebop romp, FREE FOR 3 seems to have been conceived with a higher purpose since the suites were, in the main, put together to be performed at a series of Belgium jazz festivals. In contrast to some festival fodder, however, the three performers don’t let the momentousness of the occasion mute their sense of humor.

Case in point is the final number of the Mons Inspirations: “Novelle Siciliana Per Piano Forte Solo In Forma Di Ballata”, written by pianist Giorgio Occhipinti. Occhipinti, who has worked with genre jumpers like bassist Joëlle Léandre and trumpeter

Pino Minafra, knows about classical music by writing for his cello-heavy Octet. But he also knows how to burlesque the process.

Sounding as if he’s playing an unaccompanied clavichord, here he creates his own version of the popular 18th century, minor key instrumental piece that was supposed to be derived from a traditional Sicilian dance, then mixes it with 14th century Italian music. Coming out as if it was performed on a player piano, he repeats the head quicker and quicker, adding glissandos and bearing down on the keyboard. Recurring blues notes are mixed in to show that jazz-improv is involved, with the coda a series of quiet left handed sweeps.

“To Janina Davidovic”, which precedes that number, is a tune alive with delicate impressionistic harmonies that seem to move from adagio to largo. As Occhipinti creates a sort of mid-tempo, multi-noted, quasi-ragtime, the syncopation speeds up to double and triple time. Meanwhile, the rhythm section creates the prototypical jazz beat, with drummer Francesco Branciamore — who recently released an excellent CD with his Perfect Quartet — delicately exercises his drums as if he was wiping them with a cloth, while bassist Giuseppe Guarrella generates a woody, fleet-fingered intro.

Guarrella, whose playing partners have included saxists Mario Schiano and trombonist Paul Rutherford, also showcases his skills on “Before The New Street” in the first suite. Here, his string curvatures take on a classical tincture as tiny treble scratches are succeeded by sweeping arco notes from the bass bottom, relieved by the occasional strummed section that take on a rhythm of its own.

Later as he replicates aviary-style chirps from his highest strings, Occhipinti sprays grace notes from the keyboard and Branciamore replicates wooden sounding clucks and clanks. By the final track, though, the percussionist has finessed a powerful climax, building up the tension with hearty swats on the crash cymbal and bass drum and exhibiting sounds that appear to be exploding from a cannon.

Throughout, the pianist can go from a Morse code of extended single note pressure to swift insect-like arpeggios in a flash, the drummer can elasticize time with feather light brush work or extend it with accented cymbal splashes. All the while, the bassist come up with perfectly proportioned bass lines to fit each particular situation.

Should more bands like this extending piano trio literature, it could end up lasting as many centuries as the Siciliana and the Ballata.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Mind: 1. Where is my mind? 2. The legendary Hasaan 3. Whale dance 4. Downtown 5. Sabotage 6. Shhh... 7. Peace 8. Fastair 9. L’orso 10. Melancholique 11. WRU

Personnel: Mind: Giorgio Pacorig (piano); Giovanni Maier (bass); Zeno de Rossi (drums)

Track Listing: December: De Werf Suite: 1. Bruggerie To De Werf 2. Before The New Street 3. The New Street In Old City; Mons Inspirations: 4. Ricercare Con Motto 5. To Janina Davidovic 6. Novelle Siciliana Per Piano Forte Solo In Forma Di Ballata; La Tentation Suite: 4. Basic Music 5. Hommage 6. Pyramides

Personnel: December: Giorgio Occhipinti (piano); Giuseppe Guarrella (bass); Francesco Branciamore (drums)