Braida/Marraffa/Borhini/Spera

Eco D'Alberi
Booklet notes for Porter Records PRCD 4054

Fittingly the concert by the first all-Italian Jazz group to play New York’s Vision Festival, captured on the first two tracks on this exemplary CD, featured a group named after a short story by Henry Dumas. He was a vital 1960s Black Arts movement writer and friend of Sun Ra. The name chosen by the four musicians reflects their commitment to the ongoing African American Jazz tradition as well as their capability in adapting it their own way.

Agreeing that Dumas’ magic realist appropriation of folk tales strikes a chord with Italians, the band’s Rome-based drummer Fabrizio Spera notes that his appreciation of Dumas was sparked by an the early 1980s concert dedicated to Dumas by reedist Joseph Jarman, a frequent Vision Fest participant.

Although the band, together since 2006, and filled out by pianist Alberto Braida from Lodi, Bologna-based tenor and sopranino saxophonist Edoardo Marraffa and bassist Antonio Borghini, a Bologna resident transplanted to Berlin, adapts a Free Jazz styled go-for-broke performance ethos, the quartet’s sound and modus operandi are completely its own. Listen carefully to the tracks recorded by the band in New York or at the cutting-edge European festivals of Taktlos in Zürich and An Insolent Noise in Pisa on the subsequent tracks, and you’ll hear why.

On “Up Towards the Sun” for instance, Braida interpolates a double-timed blues lick in the middle of a tongue-slapping exposition by Marraffa. Later, the saxist shows how sopraninio intensity can both soothe and snap as his cries and stutters meet the pianist’s cascading chords and the bassist’s buzzy slaps.

Eco d’Alberi’s members are young enough to be part of the explosion of Free Music which took place throughout Italy during the past decade and a half. Affiliated with regional improvising associtions, each also belongs to Map of Moods a nation-wide independent music network. This combination of factors has allowed quartet members to not only perfect individualized techniques, but also collaborate with such respected international improvisers as British saxophonist John Butcher, Dutch drummer Han Bennink, Canadian bassist Lisle Ellis and American multi-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton, among many others.

Recorded in Italy 18 months after the Manhattan gig, “Calls”, the 32-minute show-stopper here, confirms further maturing of the band members’ skills. Agitated, abrasive and atonal, the extended piece encompasses rough, smooth, warm and sharp timbres allowing each musician sufficient solo space. On tenor, Marraffa is predictably most upfront, growling, peeping and shrieking with pressurized reed bites, tonal smears and glossolalia. Unfazed, Spera smacks and clatters cymbals and uses opposite sticking to expose ruffs, flams and paradiddles. Braida’s stressed, two-handed patterns and vibrating bounces make common cause with Borghini’s spiccato rubs and strums in a cunning contrapuntal response to the others, then subtly shifts the tonal centre as stops and plucks on the piano’s internal strings, push Marraffa to reverberating mid-range smears. By that time Borghini’s floating bass line helps expand the performance to passionate intensity and moderated pings from Spera’s cymbal end it, Eco D’Alberni has confirmed its skill and the significance of this CD as a masterful example of free expression from musicians of any country.

—Ken Waxman (www.jazzword.com) Toronto, December 2010