ROBERTO OTTAVIANO

Pow Wow
Splasc(H) CDH 853.2

Not fully committed to the mainstream but certainly no avant gardist, Italian soprano saxophonist Roberto Ottaviano finds himself in a prototypical situation for a 40-something reedist.

Luckily the native of Bari can turn his interest in various musical streams to his advantage. On a fine CD like this one, made up mostly of his own compositions, he can be like a diner at a fine buffet, putting different condiments on his plate for a more balanced meal. Thus, the repast includes a homage to the American ballad, folkloric suggestions through percussion sounds and his lyrical reed solos, pre-modern trombone work, straightahead jazz from a walking bassist and on-the-beat drummer, and modernistic decorations from the synthesizer and electric piano.

Keyboardist Mirko Signorile’s movement between the electric and acoustic models often demarcates the shape of the tunes. Yet as someone who studied with pianist Richie Beirach and played with saxist Greg Osby, the younger Bari resident knows that electricity doesn’t automatically mean fusion, or acoustic piano, swing. After all, he’s accompanying a saxman whose experience encompasses gigs with avant-garde Italian composer Andrea Centazzo’s Mitteleuropa Orchestra and Austrian flugelhornist Franz Koglmann’s combos, as well as interludes with trombonists like German Albert Mangelsdorff and American Ray Anderson.

Acknowledgment of the different tones that come from the ‘bone’s bell must have stuck with him, since another distinguishing characteristic of this CD is the contribution of his frontline brass partner. Featured on three tracks, Gianluca Petrella, another Bari native who was in France’s Orchestre National de Jazz and trumpeter Enrico Rava’s band, is more of a melody man. Beppe Caruso, Ottaviano’s partner on three other tunes, is a raucous effects specialist who leads his own half Banda-half Second Line group, Free Air Sextet, and has played with cerebral reedman Gianluigi Trovesi.

Holding down the bottom are two of Italy’s busiest players, bassist Giovanni Maier and percussionist Roberto Dani. Together they also work as the rhythm section for saxophonist Alberto Pinton, while on his own Maier has recorded with American altoist Tim Berne. In short the eight compositions on POW WOW are well paced and don’t stay long enough in any one mode or style to cause ennui

A fine example of this is “Karma”, which mixes clip clops from a wood block, piano cadenzas and some liquid soprano trills. After Maier provides woody resonation up and down the strings, Signorile takes over, strumming harmonic patterns that expose the keys from top to bottom, finally settling on chiming arpeggios from his right hand. More acquiescent than upfront, Petrella joins Ottaviano in call-and-response patterns.

A sense of fun arrives with Caruso on “The Chromatic Sky”, which includes double-tonguing, slurred triplets and a rubato formula, with the trombonist sounding every grace note. An approximation of slap bass from Maier and flutter-tongued trills from the saxist embolden the tune still further, as the pianist slides out some funky blues as if he was from the deep South, not South Apulia.

Caruso’s twisted plunger tones and polyphonic counterlines are displayed on the title tune and “Effetti Personali”. With Dani playing a shuffle beat and Maier offbeat accents, the faux Hollywood Indian effects of the title vanish under a smooth, double counterpoint lead and Ottaviano’s chirping timbres. Additionally, the trombonist’s slurs, slides and speed tonguing highlight the ethnic and brass band heritage he shares with early Dixielanders.

Electric piano cadenza that are half-martial and half 1970s Herbie Hancock here and elsewhere are definitely in a jazz mode. When Petrella’s hocketing articulation mixes with them you can hear how you hear how the instrumentalist, not the instrument defines the composition. Sweet and simple as an operative air, Ottaviano’s bel canto feature “Estrellas” could almost be a cabaletta. With the piano man playing a light fingered, almost rondo that unrolls in courtly cadences, it sums up the saxman-composer’s influences from another angle.

Contemporary and classical — in the historical sense — at the same time, Ottaviano and his band show how local references can be mixed with ones from outside to produce a satisfying resolution.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. People In Sorrow 2. Karma 3. The Chromatic Sky 4. Pow Wow 5. Estrellas 6. Vagantes 7. Young and Foolish 8. Effetti Personali

Personnel: Gianluca Petrella or Beppe Caruso (trombone); Roberto Ottaviano (soprano saxophone); Mirko Signorile (piano, electric piano, synthesizer); Giovanni Maier (bass); Roberto Dani (drums, percussion objects)