between the lines btl 033

Bringing forth a pan-European take that fits the slogan Great Music, Ancient to Future, Italian pianist/composer Giorgio Occhipinti proves with this CD that high grade improv can come to fruition with very little reference to the music’s Afro-American roots.

In his work with bands like his own December Thirty Jazz Trio and trumpeter Pino Minafra’s Sudori, the pianist is easily able to connect to the Black Music part of the Art Ensemble slogan corrupted above, but HISTOIRE is more than that.

It’s an examination and evaluation of 20th Century musical currents in the form of three long compositions, the shortest of which is almost 16½ minutes long. Working from his Sicilian roots, Occhipinti mixes folk, contemporary classical, banda and operatic inflections. In a way this CD is a continuation of 2000’s nonet session GLOBAL MUSIC AND CIRCULAR THOUGHT (Jazz’halo TS 012), though it’s even more “European”, confining the music to two reedists, one drummer and six string players including the leader’s piano.

Most distinctive of the pieces is the almost 19½ minute “Histoire d’un Sicilien à Paris”, which begins with tango-like pizzicato from the violin, violas, cello and bass and ends with the piano and strings combining for a gavotte-like Parisian musette. In between the slurred cello portamento, extended by bass clarinet continuum, suggests an off-centre tarantella as a secondary theme. Soon the piano enters displaying dynamic clusters and hammering double syncopation to what elsewhere would be heard as proper recital timbres. Switching to march tempo Occhipinti uses that beat to reintroduce the other players — including tingling pizzicato strings, pedal point ostinato from the bass and thunderous kettle drums. As the percussion and keys define the militaristic bottom, hectoring, bass clarinet lines move polyrhythmically into wiggling coloratura.

More than halfway through, the pianist adds another theme that plays itself out in piano jazz syncopation with an overlay of slurred soprano saxophone lines. Finally, speedy, shrill strings reach a chamber orchestra-like crescendo which prefaces the light, musette-like theme.

With a reoccurring and transforming rhythms, the writing on “Cantata perpetuelle et hypnotique” at points resembles Anthony Braxton’s Ghost Trance Music with its perpetual motion. Potentially almost completely through-composed, the tune, based on mottetto or Roman Catholic liturgical music, finds each section advancing motifs, then giving way to counter motifs. Before the variations morph into something that sounds like romantic string writing, there’s a point where the strings and horns appear to trade fours in jazz fashion.

Picking up the initial ancient-to-future representation, “Revolution” is a two-part rondo that manipulates a dense, graphic composed score to subvert the ancient form with modern overtones. Here pedal pressure emphasized piano chords double and triple in tempo, the better to modulate romantic string lines into discordant higher registers. Reedy soprano saxophone sounds bring the piano lines down to a mid-tempo that soon turns atonal and appends complex, contrasting dynamics.

The canine-like reed snarls subverting the piano passages mirror what Occhipinti’s piano was doing viz a viz the strings earlier on in the first movement. At this point the violins, viola and cello recapitulate the rondo as kazoo-like squeals from the horn almost, but not quite, upset the form. In the end, coloratura trills and wheezes re-enter stage left from the horns along with some trick-tocking piano chords.

Keeping one hand in tradition and one in experimentation, the Sicilian pianist has proven once again that he’s someone to which close attention must be paid. To fully understand the evolution of European improvised music, Occhipinti is someone to be heard.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Cantata perpetuelle et hypnotique 2. Revolution 3. Histoire d’un Sicilien à Paris

Personnel: Matteo Gallini and Olivia Bignardi (soprano saxophone and bass clarinets); Sonia Slany and Joanna Lewis (violins); Nico Ciricugno (viola); Tiziana Cavaleri (cello); Giorgio Occhipinti (piano); Giuseppe Guarrella (bass); Antonio Moncada (drums and kettledrums)