March 18, 2009
Francesco Guerri/Chris Iemulo
No Label No #
Edoardo Marraffa/Chris Iemulo/Stefano Giust
Live at Crash
Setola Di Maiale SM 1190
Impressus Records No #
Strung out along one of the highest parts of the boot, and boasting a cluster of renowned conservatories, the cities of Northern Italy have always attracted musicians and provided places to play. Residing not far from France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands – and beneficiaries of the Internet and modern communications – the most recent generation of local improvisers is more other-directed then their elders. Also, judging from the sessions here, in the main they eschew the romantic tinge that in the past has affected even the most avant-garde Italian players.
When it comes to pure improv, these players can be appreciated for the way they mix external influences, extended technique and atonality with cohesion, while being careful not to shrivel interaction into stasis, no matter how small the formation. Additionally, each has some connection with music cooperatives that attract members from Bologna, Milan, Turin and nearby smaller centres.
Some have ranged even further afield, however. For instance pianist Tonino Miano, featured on Edus Tonus, while a musicology graduate of the University of Bologna, also has a physics degree from New York’s City College and lives near that city. This session is a reunion for him and Edoardo Marraffa, with whom he had a duo in Italy.
Bologna-based tenor and sopranino saxophonist Marraffa, who was in Manhattan performing at the Vision Festival with pianist Alberto Braida, also lets loose in the company of two other well-traveled locals in Live at Crash. Recorded in Bologna, his associates here are Swiss-born, Pordenone-based drummer Stefano Giust, who has worked with improvisers ranging from Dutch guitarist Luc Ex to Sicilian saxophonist Gianni Gebbia; and Siracusa-born guitarist Chris Iemulo, who after living in Berlin and Amsterdam, now resides in Turin but often gigs with players such as German guitarist Olaf Rupp. Anàrcode captures Iemulo’s long-standing duo with cellist Francesco Guerri, who has also recorded with Butch Morris and Marraffa.
Ranging from frenetic to meditative, Marraffa and Miano’s textures often musically circle one another. The pianist outputs cadenzas and the reedist trills and key slaps. At points Miano goes his own way, chromatically patterning and splintering chords as Marraffa/ swiftly squeaks, echoes and shrieks.
The most instructive contrast comes with “The Far Side” and the title track however. On the first tune, Miano’s metronomic key thumping becomes the ballast which holds the performance together. As he buries himself in piano innards or plinks continuous low-frequency syncopation, the saxophonist buzzes, barks and squeaks, alternating sharp bites, irregular obbligatos and held notes.
Contemplative but not brooding, the slower-paced title tune has an unvarying, contrapuntal sax line mutating into solid trills, as the pianist gently thumps low pitches with pedal pressure, languidly suggesting a nocturne. Marraffa unexpectedly concludes by upturning his sound to resonating altissimo lines with wide vibrato squeaks.
Spraying notes, pitch-sliding tones and vibrating timbres, the saxophonist opens up still more on Live at Crash, whose sound provides a definite contrast to the studio ambiance of Edus Tonus. On three long improvisations – the shortest clocks in at just under 13½ minutes – the setting and the appreciative audience spur the other players as well. Iemulo turns from plunks to steel-string riffs and vibrating clicks while Giust rolls, pops and drags, with the cumulative speed presto.
The nearly 17-minute “Elica” is the centerpiece, although elsewhere Marraffa does occasionally blow both saxes simultaneously – a procedure he tries out sparingly on the duet with Miano as well – as Iemulo frails his guitar strings while the drummer sticks to nerve beats and rim shots. Unrolling kinetically in lower pitches on “Elica”, the guitarist creates a basso continuum with a combination of strums and plucks, as the saxophonist emphasizes glottal punctuation and Giust rolls and pops parts of his kit. Upping the ante with percussive downward strokes, single-string snaps and plinking taut strings below the bridge, Iemulo’s theme fragments push Marraffa to altissimo puffs and tongue flutters Streaking across and filling the sound field, this reed overblowing is answered by distorted yet powerful frails from the drummer.
Completely different, Anàrcode highlights six improvisations in slightly more than 29 minutes. Including more reflective playing and many more silences than the live date, it’s still a long way from a chamber recital. Although Guerri has played with a few large so-called classical orchestras he doesn’t bring that baggage to his improvising.
Rather, his favored technique is pizzicato, often complementing Iemulo’s finger-style runs so that these two Italians move into the range of Americana blues and bluegrass-styled picking. A track like “Anàrcode II” for instance, features both percussively striking their instruments’ wood, following sharp, sul ponticello runs from Guerri plus pops and twangs from Iemulo. Eventually guitar fills become staccato and singular as cello sweeps ricochet with rubbed intensity. Mellower and more measured elsewhere, these contrapuntal duets are spelled by silence as well as below-the-bridge plinks from the guitarist and darker multi-string vibrations from cellist.
Although ostensibly the most formal of the three dates, Anàrcode doesn’t lack examples of expected Italian zaniness. On “BauBau,pocker” for example, Guerri’s double-stopping and Iemulo’s slurred fingering are suddenly interrupted by imitation dog barks. Soon the canine is singing along in unison with every guitar note, while the cellist scratches spiccato phrasing. As the burlesque bel-canto soprano swallows, yelps and barks [!] the accompanying rhythmic flow turns contrapuntal, finally fading as both pick out a nursery rhyme-styled theme for the finale.
Each of these discs confirms that Northern Italian improvisers are still as frisky, first-rate and frenetic as they have been in the past – even if they live in the United States.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Edus: 1. Il Morso che Spezzo 2. Compianti 3. Edus Tonus 4. Mr.Bronck 5. The Far Side 6. Plumber Slunder 7. Questioni 8. Here and There 9. Back Home
Personnel: Edus: Edoardo Marraffa (sopranino and tenor saxophone) and Tonino Miano (piano)
Track Listing: Live: 1. Vischio 2. Elica 3. Petrolio
Personnel: Live: Edoardo Marraffa (sopranino and tenor saxophone); Chris Iemulo (guitar) and Stefano Giust (drums)
Track Listing: Anàrcode: 1. Undlì 2. BauBau, pocker 3. Anàrcode 4. Anàrcode I 5. Freddo 6. Anàrcode II
Personnel: Anàrcode: Chris Iemulo (guitar) and Francesco Guerri (cello)