El Gallo Rojo 314-6

Organizing a quintet of top-flight Italian and American improvisers, Verona-based drummer Zeno de Rossi’s Sultry has created an unpretentious, yet musically sophisticated session not unlike what labels like Blue Note and Riverside used to turn out with conspicuous regularity in the 1960s and 1970s.

Not that PLUNGE is in any way a throwback. But de Rossi, who composed half of the 10 tracks here, has played in so many groups from standard piano trios to Klezmer bands, that he has amassed a post-modern sensibility that can mix wit, rhythm and swing with spectacular soloing. A finger-snapper, this CD also exudes enough pure joy that you know the musicians had as good a time recording the tunes as the listeners will hearing them.

Alive with solipsistic chord layering from one of Anthony Coleman’s four keyboards, slashing dissonant riffs from guitarist Enrico Terragnoli and some tenor saxophone honks from Chris Speed, the band pushes Duke Pearson’s “Cristo Redentor” –

a funk-jazz hit for trumpeter Donald Byrd in the 1970s – into the 21st Century. Coleman’s work with John Zorn and Speed’s with Tim Berne has obviously made them comfortable with this sort of role playing. Meanwhile the Italians – including bassist Stefano Senni – with that country’s long tradition of opera buffo and theatrical comedy take to the concept naturally as well.

“Cristo Redentor” could also serve as a musical metaphor for the session, since the only throwback PLUNGE resembles is of an era when records could be sophisticated and popular at the same time.

Be aware that if De Rossi writes a tune like “Tina”, which shows off his Latinesque drum rattling, Terragnoli double stopping like George Benson and contrapuntal organ washes mid-way between Jimmy Smith and a Bar Mitzvah band, it’s done with respect and admiration. Sure it could be the soundtrack for a slinky Italian sex-Noir romp of the 1960s, but the composer opens the tune up enough to include a complicated finale that takes in dissonant fuzz-tone guitar and a wah-wahing sax line. It’s the same with his “Petunia”, which heavy on the drum backbeat and Coleman’s whining Wurlitzer, creates a line that could underscore any “twist party” in those same films.

POMO touches characterize other tracks as well, including a sampled snatch of dialogue about drumming from the film Man With A Golden Arm; “Singer”, which doesn’t sing, but melds church-like organ riffs and chalumeau reed trills into a near Baroque melody that explodes into in back-beat drumming and high-pitched guitar string distortions as a climax. Then there’s De Rosi’s “Zakaz”, whose Middle Eastern cast is advanced by snake-charmer pulses from Speed’s clarinet and the drummer’s own ratchet clicking and hand drumming, but subverted by Coleman’s spacey electric piano comping whose link is with Miles Davis’ BITCHES BREW not the Maghreb.

PLUNGE’s entire premise is emphatically set out with Speed’s composition of the same name that serves as the introductory and title track. A stop-time vamp with the composer in honking Stanley Turrentine mode and Coleman channeling Big John Patton, it effectively sets the stage for the proceedings.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Plunge 2. Tina 3. The Daniel Quinn Theme 4. Audio Bongo 5. Zakaz 6. Freezy 7. Fujiyama 8. Petunia 9. Singer 10. Ida y Vuelta 11. Abracadabra 12. Cristo Redentor

Personnel: Chris Speed (tenor saxophone and clarinet); Enrico Terragnoli (guitar [except tracks 4-6, 11]); Anthony Coleman (Hammond A-100 and Vox organs Wurlitzer and Fender Rhodes electric pianos); Stefano Senni (bass); Zeno de Rossi (drums and percussion)