July 19, 2004
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 Signoriles 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 doesnt automatically mean fusion, or acoustic piano, swing. After all, hes accompanying a saxman whose experience encompasses gigs with avant-garde Italian composer Andrea Centazzos Mitteleuropa Orchestra and Austrian flugelhornist Franz Koglmanns combos, as well as interludes with trombonists like German Albert Mangelsdorff and American Ray Anderson.
Acknowledgment of the different tones that come from the bones 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 Frances Orchestre National de Jazz and trumpeter Enrico Ravas band, is more of a melody man. Beppe Caruso, Ottavianos 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 Italys 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 dont 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.
Carusos 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 Ottavianos chirping timbres. Additionally, the trombonists 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 Petrellas 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, Ottavianos 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-composers 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)