Stafano Pastor

SLAM CD 520/Sita Records SR 1001

Freedom without dissonance is how this quartet session could be defined. Due to the instruments used – reeds and strings – the tracks are non-linear without being non-melodic. It’s a tribute to the specifically-assembled quartet involved that although Freedom won’t alienate many in the fashion of screaming Energy Music or frigid Minimalism, the uninitiated expecting soothing backgrounds will be disquieted.

Nominal leader, Genovese violinist Stefano Pastor articulates his concepts of “freedom”, “free jazz” and “violin jazz” in the booklet notes. But the cumulative skills of the other three performing on five group instant compositions and five Pastor tunes are as generic to the session’s success as the fiddler. All bring experience from different musical styles to pure improvisation. Pastor, for instance, using extremely rigid electric guitar strings on his instrument, has played Rock, Pop and Jazz with, among others, soprano saxophonist Gianni Mimmo and trombonist Giancarlo Schiaffini. Veteran George Haslam of Oxford, who plays baritone saxophone and tarogato here built up Jazz, Dance, Latin and Improv chops working with everyone from Eastern European, Argentinean and Finnish musicians to fellow British saxophonist Evan Parker.

A prize-winning composer who teaches at the University of Genoa and the Alessandria Conservatory, soprano saxophonist Claudio Lugo is equally at home with notated and improvised modern music. Finally bassist Giorgio Dini from Varese has gigged regularly with everyone from the Lil Darling Hot Club band to Bop and Avant sessions with players such as saxophonist Luigi Bonafede and pianist James Williams on one side of the continuum, and fellow bassist William Parker and pianist Borah Bergman on the other.

Although the scene-setting on a couple of tracks is suggested either by Dini’s powerful plucked patterns or mid-range bowed notes, he mostly eschewed the front line, preferring to use vibrating petal point or thick ostinato to guide the proceedings from below. Otherwise it’s Haslam’s prowess in propelling guttural smears and growls into proper sequences within the tunes is what’s most noticeable. But that’s because much of the time timbral tone, not to mention taste in narrative spinning, characterizing both Pastor’s violin and Lugo’s soprano saxophone, often make their output nearly – and happily – indistinguishable.

Nonetheless, even with all four parallel instrumental lines apparent, the result is layered concordance rather than muddled cacophony. Pastor uses flying spiccato and angling to make his points as Lugo sticks to trembling glissandi and Haslam taut burbling for out-of-the ordinary harmonies. A tune such as “Meditation” for instance, evolves chromatically as close-textured soprano and fiddle portamento runs gradually tighten. It’s at this juncture that the baritone’s snorting ostinato and Dini’s plucked pedal point are gradually absorbed into a connective crescendo. That achieved, the bassist’s slap on his strings with his bow’s frog signals a new phase as the remaining voices become more singular, unraveling the interface with spins, sweeps and chirps. However, the poly-harmonic lines never stop intersecting, allowing unity to be maintained.

Simultaneously expressed lines involving the tarogato follow a similar pattern, although it’s necessary to pitch the wooden horn’s tone upwards to provide proper contrast with the other instruments. Another differentiation occurs when the program involves stop-time sequences rather than gradually swelling glissandi from the three conventional lead voices. At one point this leaves Pastor expelling a strident country-fiddle-like run as the two horns pile florid properties on top of his solo, decorating it rather than completing it.

Still lapses like this are not only few and far between, but brief as well. Overall Freedom gives cerebral sonic freedom a good name.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Freedom 2. Rebellion 3. Emancipation 4. Elevation 5. Dance 6. Opposition 7. Meditation 8. Freedom (alternate)

Personnel: Claudio Lugo (soprano saxophone); George Haslam (baritone saxophone and tarogato); Stefano Pastor (violin) and Giorgio Dini (bass)