Atipico Trio

Leo Records CD LR 584

Part of the ongoing Italian tradition of improvisation, which encompasses histrionic opera buffo; brassy, in-step marching bands; joyous circus music and a hint of African timbres alongside extended techniques; is the long-constituted Atipico Trio

Made up of players who play two woodwinds each, you could say the band is to ROVA or the World Saxophone Quartet as Spike Jones’ band was to Duke Ellington’s. Except that is for the fact that each player is an accomplished musicians in his own right, and has enough compositional and improvisational smarts to know how to have fun with music without cheapening it with sonic pratfalls or parodistic exaggeration.

Atipico itself is just one of the many projects involving baritone saxophonists and bass clarinetist Carlo Actis Dato, who lives near Turin. Able to hold his own solo and as a member of the massive Italian Instabile Orchestra (IIO), he also brings the controlled musical anarchy he exhibits on this CD to solo sessions and the various combos he heads from duos to sextets. His associates here are Beppe Di Filippo, playing soprano and alto saxophones, another member of the IIO as well as groups like the Enrico Fazio septet; and alto saxophonist and clarinettist Davide Tilotta, who elsewhere mixes music with comedy and collaborates with theatre and dance companies.

Possessed of an instantly identifiable buoyant sound that’s both festive and frenetic, the trio appears to exist in its own sonic world – and one that’s indisputably Italian. Many of the 14 track titles, composed by individual trio member, seem like the album title, untranslatable. Some possible deciphering would include “don’t molest me at mass” for Actis Dato’s “No me molestes mas”; “Communists eat children” for “I comunisti mangiano i bambini” another of his compositions; “a day of fire” for Di Fillippo’s “Un giorno di fucco” and “Pagliacci at 50 meters” for “Pagliacci a 50 metri”, a composition of Tilotta.

Pagliacci, Leoncavallo’s famous broken-hearted clown is celebrated in Tilotta’s piece with sonorous clarinet lines wobbling on top of baritone saxophone pedal point. Eventually both clarinet and soprano saxophone harmonize to create contrapuntal, upper-register timbres that could come from a circus calliope. As for “Un giorno di fucco”, the reed blending is as advanced as ROVA’s with interlock horn textures eventually fragmenting, following an introduction that’s mostly vocalized yells and mumbles; with a Bop-line theme separated by short reed bites.

Tomfoolery aside, the trio’s music stays grounded because a steady rhythmic ostinato anchors each performance. No matter what advanced counterpoint or discordant screeches are audible, the ostinato provides the comfort factor. Similarly there’s a distinctive and repetitive North African intonation that wafts through many of the tunes. Although its genesis may be Arabic or Sephardic music, none of the timbres are classic. Instead the pan-Mediterranean airs mix with tones from other cultures.

A piece such as Actis Dato’s “No me molestes mas” for instance, attains its definition with circular call-and-response which pop out among screeching alto slurs, squeaky clarinet trills and the baritone’s buzzing lows. As the reed lines churn, hand-clapping and sing-alongs are expressed as well. In fact, at times, it seems as if the trio is about to break out with into a medley of hora tunes. Coming from the other sonic direction, some churning, rhythmic tracks sound like the end product of experiments that glued percussive tongue slaps to the melody of traditional Christmas carols.

Another memorably entertaining signpost in the trio’s and Actis Dato’s career, Eqquqqua guarantees a good time for all, without pandering or insulting anyone’s musical intelligence.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Xhosa 2. Zappatipicio 3. Khamma 4. Ero Piero 5. Val Soasna 6. No me molestes mas 7. Sanchi 8. I comunisti mangiano i bambini 9. Tilmit 10. Un giorno di fucco 11. Atropico 12. Mandrill 13. Sud Lancania 14. Pagliacci a 50 metri

Personnel: Beppe Di Filippo (soprano and alto saxophones); Davide Tilotta (alto saxophone and clarinet) and Carlo Actis Dato (baritone saxophone and bass clarinet)