Borah Bergman/Stefano Pastor

Live at Tortona
Mutable MM-17534-2

Contini/Mimmo/Pastor

Forgiving July

Amirani Records AMRN 016

Within the wider vistas of improvised music, the idea of seeing a violin – or a viola – on the stand doesn’t upset anyone. The challenge for the fiddler however, is to bring, along with the instrument, .something unexpected to the musical meeting.

Genovese violinist Stefano Pastor, who strings his fiddle with extremely rigid electric guitar strings, has used it in rock, pop and symphonic situations – and more advantageously when improvising with advanced jazzers such as trombonist Giancarlo Schiaffini, baritone saxophonist George Haslam or pianist Connie Crothers

These CDs with different partners show however that while Pastor’s saxophone-like tone may be ideal as part of an advanced wind trio, the sheer technical power of a unique, ambidextrous pianist like Borah Bergman puts anyone in an accompanying role.

On its own, Live at Tortona is an intense session of go-for-broke improvising with New Yorker Bergmann expansive in all tempos, sprinting from moderato to agitato and from lyrical to staccato. He manages to create two entirely separate keyboard extensions which both oppose and accompany one another. Possessing a keyboard command that ranges through jazz history, he’s as apt to suggest Ragtime or Stride textures that relate to James P. Johnson and Jelly Roll Morton, as he is to create Thelonious Monk-styled angularity or Cecil Taylor-like contrasting dynamics. There’s even a point during “When Autumn Comes” that his keyboard ringing is so intense that it appears church bells are chiming in response.

Up against such a force of nature as Bergman – who in the past has faced down saxophone partners as fierce as Peter Brötzmann or Evan Parker – Pastor seems to be politely waiting until the pianist has expressed himself to the utmost and only then enters the fray with his own theme variations. At those points the fiddler contributes diamond-hard spiccato jabs, single-note darts, expressive portamento or multi-stopped flying glissandi. Momentary pauses in the onrushing pianism don’t mean that Bergman has metamorphosis back into Dr. Jekyll however. With both hands clawing rumbling note clusters or high-frequency melodies that are as apt to resemble fractured nursery rhymes as legato patterns, the idea that Bergman’s improvising is unstoppable and immovable may have entered Pastor’s mind.

Rapprochement eventually occurs on the final, 16½-minute “The Mighty Oak” with contradictory, complementary or contrapuntal patterns. Each man deconstructs wedges of the narrative as the performance remains an organic whole. Pastor’s note-spinning is rustic and pastoral when the pianist’s runs are even-measured; they reverberate with multiphonic glissandi when Bergman’s intermezzo revolves into wide octave jumps and fraying free-form pressure; and by the conclusion, the two are splattering and splaying tremolo notes, tones and chords. In the coda though, Bergman can’t resist rushing across the keys once again

More like a chamber wind recital than the pitched hand-to-hand musical combat suggested by Live at Tortona, Forgiving July recorded live at a different Italian Jazz Festival is an exercise in tripartite cohesion. Overlapping tones and timbres while decorating each other’s solos, the trio members maintain individual quirks within each track’s distinctive tessitura. Canonic in parts, the solos of soprano saxophonist Gianni Mimmo proffer an intense vibrato against trombonist Angelo Contini’s burbling and braying as well as the fiddler’s string shrieks and spiky jabs.

Pavia native Mimmo and Milanese Contini have explored similar coordinates in conventional and experimental situations for years. Partnering others in ensembles that encompassed everything from unlimited circular breathing to accompanying poets and dancers, the two also have a long history as a duo or with electronics manipulators such as Lorenzo Dal Ri and Xabier Iriondo.

While they eschew the electronics here, numerous timbres that slurp or pitch-slide from their horns suggest the sort of extended techniques that can be developed after experimenting with computers and sound processing. Interestingly enough, it’s Pastor who appears most mainstream in this context. Frequently within the seven improvisations there are points at which it appears as if he’s going to quote from a standard tune, be it “Misty”, “Hit the Road, Jack” or even “London Bridge”. But the impulse is still born. None of these asides ever develops into full-fledged contrafacts because he speedily glides past the almost-quote.

Even so when he’s not creating bagpipe-like multiphonics in response to the trombonist’s braying and burping and the saxophonist’s whistling vibrato, it’s often Pastor who moves the overlapping lines towards lyricism. “Hidden and Blue” however, proves the others haven’t abandoned bel canto suggestion. Here pan-flute-like trills from Mimmo nearly push the tune into eclogue territory until spiccato violin and squawking brass contrapuntally make the end result more gaunt and pointed. Throughout, three-part crescendos and wide-bore polyphony confirm the three’s overlapping concordance.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Live: 1. Spirit Song 2. When Autumn Comes 3. Wellspring 4. Crescent 5. The Mighty Oak

Personnel: Live: Stefano Pastor (violin) and Borah Bergman (piano)

Track Listing: Forgiving: 1. The Calling Days 2. Intimacy and Undanced 3. Road 4. Intensive/Cette Fois 5. The Painter 6. Hidden and Blue 7. The Long Farewell

Personnel: Forgiving: Angelo Contini (trombone); Gianni Mimmo (soprano saxophone) and Stefano Pastor (violin)