Leo CD LR 392

One of the founders of the Milan-based multidisciplinary Takla Improvising Group, clarinetist Fabio Martini is one of the unheralded master craftsmen of improvised music, Italian branch, and this trio CD offers plenty of evidence to back this up.

A low-key trio session, PRACTICALITY finds Martini partnered with the equally little-known — outside of Milan that is — bassist Tito Mangialajo Rantzer and drummer Carlo Virzi on 15 of his own compositions named for brain and body parts. The overall impression is a variation on one of American clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre’s trios, but with more of a straightforward cast.

Like Giuffre, the Italian clarinetist has involved himself in different area of improv, at one point helming an 11-piece band, and maintaining an association with the Takla Wind Quartet, whose other members include Italian clarinetist Giancarlo Locatelli and Dutch reedist Ab Baars.

“Muscular coordination”, the longest track, brings the Giuffre resemblance most to the forefront as circular clarinet slurs and trills move the piece forward as reed buzzes intersect with a resonating higher-pitched bass line and flashy accompaniment from Virzi. Unconcerned with maintaining a steady beat, the percussionist’s response is particularly noteworthy since momentum is maintained even though his playing is multi-directional. It suggests what could have happened if rather than a guitar or piano, Giuffre had used a flexible drummer alongside a bassist in his pace-setting trios.

“Force” is another percussion showcase. Beginning a cappella, Virzi builds his light-toned pedal and stick work up to harsher, barbed beats and echoing cymbal gliding, finally joined by four square bass plucks and flutter-tongued, higher pitched clarinet lines.

Most of the tunes are here to showcase Martini’s command of both the alto and Bb clarinet. Yet, as notably, Rantzer’s sympathetic association throughout makes full use of bouncing spiccato tones, serpentine shuffle bowing and ponticello friction. Thus the reedman has the backing to be able to squeak out bird-like trills and flutter tongue in the altissimo register with the same ease that he elaborates chalumeau scene-setting and glottal punctuation elsewhere.

Sometimes Martini’s legato tonality brigs to mind a modern Benny Goodman, as on “Practicality I”. In contrast, a pitchsliding vibration that works itself into overriding tremolo and double counterpoint from different reed pitches suggests Gianluigi Trovesi, Italy’s modern day reed master. Then there’s “Practicality III”, which is so firmly in the experimental camp that what could reflect the sound of tennis balls being thrown against a hard surface —a noise that could arise from any one of the instruments.

Less flamboyant, folkloric and impressionistic than Trovesi, Martini irrefutably proves with this CD that there’s more than one reed master in the boot-shaped country of Europe.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Observation 2. Persistence 3. Practicality I 4. Will 5.Practicality II 6. Tact 7. Center of vitality 8. Practicality III 9. Self-confidence 10. Force 11. Energy 12. Courage 13. Muscular coordination 14. Commerce 15. Firmness

Personnel: Fabio Martini (alto and Bb clarinets); Tito Mangialajo Rantzer (bass); Carlo Virzi (drums)