Edoardo Ricci/Eugenio Sanna/Roger Turner

I Segnali Della Ritirata
Burp Publications/MH Music MHM 7

Edoardo Ricci/Eugenio Sanna
Le Sette Premonizioni Ortofutticole
Burp Publications bsicd 10

Edoardo Ricci/Thollem Mcdonas
Sono Contento di Stare qua
Edgetone Records EDT4037

Isolated pockets of innovative improvisers exist all over the world, surfacing in this time of instantaneous communication so that they can intersect with musicians from elsewhere.

Take for example players affiliated with the obscure – even in their own country – improv scenes in Pisa and Florence, Italy Two standouts, Pisa-based guitarist Eugenio Sanna and horn man Edoardo Ricci from Florence have raised their individual profiles recently with newly-released sessions featuring one or both collaborating with out-of-country players.

However a close listen to one of the duo’s earlier CDs reveals that their one-on-one improvising is just as significant. Actually, considering the humorous asides and risk-taking implicit in such long-time familiarity between equals, the disc may be even more notable.

Over the years, Sanna and Ricci, playing alto saxophone, bass clarinet, cornet, trumpet and megaphone, have participated in a trio formation with British percussionist Roger Turner, a frequent associate of vocalist Phil Minton. A late 1990s concert is captured on I Segnali Della Ritirata. Sono Contento di Stare on the other hand captures Ricci on alto during his first meeting with American Thollem Mcdonas, who plays a rickety, beat-up piano.

Finally, Le Sette Premonizioni Ortofutticole, features Ricci and Sanna in a home-grown session. Fourteen tracks of Dadaist, Felliniesque lunacy, it mulches rock inflections, Free Jazz abrasions and Italian opera buffo showiness in an original fashion, with both men adding several implements that can be blown into, struck, hammered or swatted to their collection of traditional sound makers.

In the duo with Mcdonas on Sono Contento..., Ricci’s sluicing flutter-tongue alto saxophone elaborations and other advanced techniques fit firmly into a sort of Universalist Free Music pattern. But this may relate most strongly to the pianist’s vision. A former Bay area resident, who played with saxophonist Rent Romus among other, the pianist now lives in Prague. Primarily he records his own compositions which he calls “post-classical circus punk world jazz free music, for people and everyone else”.

Be that as it may, his pianism on the CD’s four tracks touches on honky tonk, boogie woogie and impressionism more than other avenues. Ricci, who has been on the scene since 1968 – when the pianist was one year old – and whose involvement in different orchestras in Florence and elsewhere in Europe with players like South African saxophonist Sean Bergin has given him a more varied palate.

Although Mcdonas torques the piano keys, strings and pedals in certain directions the age and condition of the instrument means that it can only be pushed so far. What results are note assemblies that eventually resemble a demented take on “Chopsticks”, yet at the top unravel so many sluicing arpeggios that his string strums and strokes often replicate those of a prepared guitar.

Despite this, the pianist doesn’t hold back. During the course of the four improvisations, his kinetic, cadenzas saturate any space not taken up by Ricci’s trills or irregular pitch vibrations. His open-handed syncopation encompasses metronome-like cosseted arpeggios and additional percussive undertones that likely relate to disintegrating foot pedals. In response to these swelling keyboard lines, the reedist showcases biting staccato runs, porous internal peeps, plus simultaneously barking split tones and tongue slaps.

Real percussion from the hands of Turner is available on Segnali…with Sanna’s guitar also as much an idiophone as a melodic instrument. Making full use of the vibrations available from strings, body, amp and electricity, the plectrumist adapts steel guitar-like licks, effects pedal flanges, unvarying metronomic strumming and ratcheting slaps to many of these seven instant compositions. At points he appears to be detuning his strings as he underscores a point, creating a broken octave line to separate his sounds from those of the other two players.

Meantime the drummer sandpaper scrapes and bluntly slaps timbres from his drum tops. Not only does he accent with his bass drum pedal and snare, but he also introduces kalimba-like sonics and bell-ringing plus the rattle and pop of chains dangled in the air or on top of his floor tom. Like Mcdonas on Sono …, however, he too seems never to stop fidgeting with his instrument long enough to allow descriptive pauses.

Ricci overblows and smears sound from his alto saxophone, hums and brays from his bass clarinet and squirts and honks textures with his cornet. At one point he circles the others with a pressured series of trills, causing Turner to manipulate his drum heads so that they take on mechanized conga or djembe attributes, while Sanna produces pitch-modulated wave forms.

This polyrhythmic interaction of shattered metal, strings and skin reaches a finale of rapid chromatic string snaps and drum smashes at the recital conclusion. But much earlier on, and an indication of how many in the live audience are affected, following a staccato blast of vibe-like tones, brass growls and buzzing guitar lines, a dog in attendance begins barking loudly and repeatedly.

An affiliated pooch and the kitchen sink – is it acqaio cucina? – are just about the only noises and implements that don’t show up on Sette … Ricci and Sanna’s duo disc. All of the electric guitar tricks of Sanna, who at time has been affiliated with such POMO tricksters as John Zorn and Rome-based British Hawaiian guitarist Mike Cooper, are on show, as are Sanna’s interpolations of found objects and amplifier tricks. At times he could be dragging abrasive metals across the strings, stroking big band-style rhythm guitar licks or elsewhere daintily finger-picking on a miniature ukulele.

Ringing the changes through cornet, bass clarinet and alto saxophone, Ricci follows the particular Italian habit of using a megaphone as another sound source, blowing and sing-speaking through it.

On different tracks among the nasal snorts, Bronx cheers, rooster crows, burps, gasping for breath, spits and shrill whistles, both men vocalize and verbalize. There’s one instance of faux Neapolitan crooning, but mostly one man verbalizes with the falsetto of Topo Gigo, while the other takes on the gravelly tones of Señor Wenches’ man-in-a-box. Didn’t Punch & Judy originate in Italy?

Putting aside the nonsense sounds and dialogue though, the 14 [!] tracks are more notable for highlighting an inimitable cross section of what the two offer instrumentally. From crunching Heavy Metal-like emphasized lines to delicate glass-like scrapes, Sanna’s pitch-shifting timbres range from largo to staccatissimo and from pianissimo to fortissimo. Meanwhile Ricci outputs brisk kazoo-like tones at certain junctures accelerating from altissimo to sopranissimo, while his snorty bass clarinet adumbrates pseudo-Aylerian screams.

Let “Digestione lenta”, the longest track at nearly 8½ minutes, illustrate the dual strategy. As Ricci honks, snorts and mouse squeaks, Sanna seems to be dragging an e-bow across his string to produce a metallic squeal while blowing on a slide whistle. Squeaking and yelling through his horn’s body tube, the saxophonist’s outburst is answered by diminuendo reverb and crunching distortion, until the guitarist replicates the slurred fingering of a five-string banjo. Faster and faster rasgueado licks polyphonically mate with irregular pitch vibrations from the saxophone, until the two reach the finish line of this contest, with neither the loser.

While Florence and Pisa may not rank with Milan and Rome as well-known centres of Italian improvisation, these three CDs prove that there are at least two players – and probably many more – who deserve wider international exposure.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Segnali: 1. The Lick 2. Mush 3. The Sperm Whale 4. Profumi al tramonto 5. L’arte del vedere 6. Il Viaggio degli idraulici 7.Piccoli passi rituali

Personnel: Segnali: Edoardo Ricci (alto saxophone, bass clarinet, cornet, honking gum); Eugenio Sanna (electric guitar) and Roger Turner (percussion)

Track Listing: Sette: 1. Dissidi senili 2. La vigora dell’età di mezzo 3. È la canzone della carota 4. Due o tre pomodori 5. Digestione lenta 6. Apparizione all’erta canina 7. Sveglia alle sette con trilli militari 8. Pomeriggio pungente 9. L’aglio è la panacea de vecchi 10. Scetticismo sfatto 11. La cipolla rende belli 12. Fregole e pruderies cipolline 13. Quant’è buona questa zucchina 14. Lo spirito del fiume Farma

Personnel: Sette: Edoardo Ricci (alto saxophone, bass clarinet, cornet, trumpet, megaphone and voices) and Eugenio Sanna (electric guitar, packing tape, objects and voices)

Track Listing: Sono: 1. Old of old cold stone house 2. Cold of old cold stone house 3. Stone of cold stone house 4. House of old cold stone house

Personnel: Sono: Edoardo Ricci (alto saxophone) and Thollem Mcdonas (rickety, beat-up piano)