June 22, 2008
A Watched Pot (Never Boils)
Amirani Records AMR006
Ozmotic Records 001
La Terra di Giubba
Rai Trade RTPJ 003
With Italy’s history as a unified entity only a little more than a century old, following many millennia of absorbing influences form other countries, it’s not surprising that Italian improvising musicians are unafraid to adopt a variety of musical stimuli for their own ends. These notable recent sessions provide perfect examples of this.
Probably most in the tradition is La Terra di Giubba, a live CD by a quartet of Bologna-based players who twist jazz’s language and impulses to their own ends. But the tradition extended here isn’t the so-called mainstream, but Freebop of the mid-1960 characterized by the stylings of saxophonists Archie Shepp and Eric Dolphy and the most adventurous playing of vibist Bobby Hutcherson. Not surprisingly all of Mrafi’s members are also in the Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue band. Vibist Pasqale Mirra also is a member of drummer Zeno De Rossi’s Shtik group; drummer Antonio Borghini and bassist Antonio Borghini have backed Anthony Braxton; and Borghini has also worked with David Murray. Saxophonist Edoardo Marraffa has played with international musicians such as Dutch drummer Han Bennink and taken part in a Butch Morris-led conduction.
Marraffa is also a member of Bologna’s s association Bassesfere, created to develop and diffuse improvised music in the area. Another member is percussionist Francesco Cusa, featured on the Milan-recorded A Watched Pot (Never Boils). His associates on the disc are tyro Andrea Serrapiglio, who bring academic cello studies and virtuosic electronics manipulating to the session; and veteran soprano saxophonist Gianni Mimmo. Besides jazz and contemporary art music, Mimmo has spent decades involved with the interconnection among music, visual arts, spoken and written words and introduces elements of those correlations here.
Drummer Simone Bosco, who wrote all the music on Gregorianum is similarly involved in collaborations with musicians from both jazz and New music as well as dancers and singer-songwriters. He even directed and performed with 80 percussionists at the opening ceremony of the XX Winter Olympic Games in Turin. In stark contrast to spectacles like that, this CD takes as its base simple monodies from the Gregorian repertoire and uses those themes to create modern compositions and improvisations.
Admirer of the late American soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy – whose approach can be heard in Mimmo’s keening tone – and through Lacy to the music of Lacy’s mentor pianist Thelonious Monk – a textural influence which pops up in several of his pieces here – Mimmo has come up with an unmistakable sound for this CD. Limning 15 tracks in less than 41 minutes, the trio on the disc use extended and expected instrumental techniques to finesse the instant compositions into a unique style.
For example a tune like “Climber” mixes a Laceyesque toot from Mimmo with jagged friction from Serrapiglio’s strings and bass drum resonation from Cusa. Subsequently when the cellist plays sul ponticello and the saxophone’s altissimo screech ascends to dog-whistle territory, it’s the drummer’s singular and unforced strokes that cement the performance.
Cusa, who leads his own bands and is featured in groups with French tubaist Michel Godard and Sicilian saxophonist Gianni Gebbia, skillfully uses traps patterns to keep things rolling throughout, without every raising his clatter above moderato. At different times his percussion explorations resemble garbage can lids being rhythmically scraped or an eggbeater clattering on the ground – that is when they’re not identifiable as pressure exerted against widely stretched drum heads; gossamer-light, but reverberating cymbal taps; or a collection of timed flams and ruffs that expose sections of the kit – including rims and sides.
Elsewhere Serrapiglio’s cello evokes squirmy double stopped passages, sul ponticello scraping or arpeggio frailing. Then on a tune like “Cartoon Shouter”, the vibrating, contrapuntal string set accelerates into waves of overtones that smoothly sail above percussion rebounds that could come from marbles being rolled on a solid surface. Alternately, when so-called “lo-fi electronics” are brought into play, they’re often used to set up expanded cello timbres as on the back-half of “Unanswered”, or earlier in that same piece when the trigged wave forms underline lyrical saxophone flights.
Mimmo’s skill lies in his ability to switch from abstract to tonal without missing a beat, even in altissimo territory. As finely etched as some of his legato phrasing may be, however, it doesn’t mean that he won’t whistle and vibrate the reed to its limit as on “Possible Endings #2” – to match harsh tremolo bowing from Serrapiglio and Cusa’s busy strokes.
A younger musician with similar reed command is Marraffa, although on La Terra di Giubba he apparently divides his time among soprano, alto and tenor saxophones. Working over five interconnected tunes he wrote that are distributed over 11 tracks, his sibilant split tones and glottal tongue-stopping pays intentional-or-not homage to the Shepp-Dolphy axis. However when he does reach the self-contained title track, intimations of Evan Parker-like circular breathing are exposed as well While additional reed overtones are introduced as the continuous performance develops, to include the other three musicians, grainy false register screams replace the solid line.
Expelling irregularly voiced flutter tonguing, snorts, growls and renal impressionism, Marraffa bonds with the slides, scrapes and rubs of bassist Borghini and the rattling time-keeping from drummer Calcagnile. Other impressive dual voicing includes walking bass lines mated with reverberating multi-mallet whacks from vibist Mirra.
Replicating the transition from Free Bop to Free Music, the other compositions are divided into sections, but still have definite beginnings, middles and ends. Most are built on four-mallet exposition and undulations from the vibist; walking bass lines; plus swipes and ruffs from the drummer. On his own, Borghini expresses himself with thick pile-driver double stops as he works up the scale, as pops and slaps or a combination of snapping pizzicato runs interrupted by arco shifts. Meantime Marraffa’s sandpaper timbre often swells with reed-biting, flattement and quick fortissimo squeaks.
The four sections of the inter-connective “Il Crogiuolo” most thoroughly showcase Mrafi’s strategies. Using two saxophones, Marraffa reed bites and tongue slaps his way into wider-spaced and abstract top-of-range growls as Borghini double stop and creates buzzing sweeps in the bass’s higher registers, while Calcagnile rebounds and bounces. Skirting collective near-lunacy, the piece remains relatively earthbound because of the straight-laced vibraphone pulse.
Cantuarium possess similar sonic brakes, since Bosco’s compositions and the band’s improvisations are, after all, linked to the Gregorian repertoire, the root of European musical culture. Sixth century plainsong had trouble moving at a less than funeral pitch, let alone swinging or exploding into freedom, which explains the band’s limitations here.
Like La Terra di Giubba, this CD deals with extended composition, though only one, “Missa Allegorica”, in five parts is represented. Still, with the self-imposed “Gregorian” limitations, the other pieces end up mining similar musical territory. The solemn processional tempi of the themes, usually characterized by a thick strumming from bassist Stefano Risso, plus carefully timed cymbal slaps and press rolls from Bosco, alters in character when trombonist Giorgio Giovanini lets loose. The Turin native, who has played in bands with bassist Furio Di Castri among many others, introduces the sort of slurring and whinnying blasts that reference New Orleans marches rather than New Testament genuflecting.
When Giovanini mixes his pedal point burr with the flutter-tonguing of saxophonist Paolo Porta, who has also worked with Di Castri, the end result is more joyous than anything you imagine plainsong-chanting monks would create, unless they were tapping into the fermented mead. It even seems as if Klezmer-like saxophone runs, slapped bass lines and staccato reverberations from the bass drum conveyed by a visceral shuffle beat invade “Confiutebuntur”.
“Post Partum” steps even further out, with Giovanini beginning the pieced with a rubato burr and ending it with open-horn swing, as Risso’s thumps and slaps destabilize the rhythm as hocketing vibrations from the others move the tune forward. Despite its title the five-part compositions is evidentially more “allegorica” than “missa”. Hardly solipsistic, the chant-like intimations are soon interrupted by violent bull-fiddle string pulls, shaking Trad Jazz-like ‘bone blasts and bright sax harmonies that recall Sonny Stitt at his most sinewy.
With stop-time sections driven by electric bass pops and shuffle beats from the drum kit, andante dancing replace ecclesiastical scuffling. Returning fleetingly to the theme, the soloists’ multiphonic exposition brings in secondary themes plus plunger expansions from the trombonist. Reaching a crescendo of skittering and scattered rhythmic feints as Bosco expresses himself fully in the suite’s final section, the composition culminates as barking, double-tongued brass lines and sinewy reed bites intersect.
Defining Italian jazz in any particular way may be as foolish as trying to describe the typical Italian. Certainly these three groups are creating unique methods of interpreting composed and improvised music.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Watched: 1. Crusty 2. Submerged Singer 3. Unanswered 4. Seasoned Drama 5. Put to Sleep 6. Pot Head Pixies 7. Cartoon Shouter 8. The Inner Broadcast 9. Possible Endings #1 10. Clinched 11. Creek on the Athlete 12. Climber 13. Athlete on the Creek 14.Answered 15. Possible Endings #2
Personnel: Watched: Gianni Mimmo (soprano saxophone); Andrea Serrapiglio (cello and lo-fi electronics) and Francesco Cusa (percussion)
Track Listing: Gregorianum: 1. Afferentur Regi 2. Sancti Tui 3. Justus Jeminabit 4. Confiutebuntur 5. Pretiosa 6. Post Partum Missa Allegorica 7. Kyrie 8. Credo 9. Gloria 10. Sanctus 11. Agnus Dei
Personnel: Gregorianum: Giorgio Giovannini (trombone); Paolo Porta (alto and tenor saxophones); Stefano Risso (bass and electric bass) and Simone Bosco (drums)
Track Listing: Terra: I Alice: 1. Alice 2. I Flauti 3. Alice II Il Crogiuolo: 4. Solo 5. Indio 6. Ti con zero 7. Solo 9b) III. La Terra di Giubba: 8. La Terra di Giubba IV. Cosa Succede: 9. Mrafi 10. Le Flabe V. Coda: 11. Coda
Personnel: Terra: Edoardo Marraffa (soprano alto and tenor saxophones); Pasqale Mirra (vibraphone); Antonio Borghini (bass) and Cristiano Calcagnile (drums)