Andrea Buffa/Carlo Actis Dato/Fiorenzo Bodrato/Dario Mazzucco

30 Year Island
Leo Records CD 624

By Ken Waxman

A sonic topographical map of an imaginary island, 30 Year Island offers up 10 location profiles that mix jazz and ethnic sounds as played by a top-flight Italian quartet. Each geographical site displayed on a fanciful map included in the package, is so worth a visit, that if it existed, the island would deserve a seat on the United Nations on musical values alone.

All 10 tunes are composed by tenor and alto saxophonist/clarinetist Andrea Buffa, also a member of the all-reeds quartet B4SAX. But his mapping of the territory is helped immeasurably by the assured and ebullient playing of Carlo Actis Dato on bass clarinet plus baritone and tenor saxophones. One of the major figures in Italian jazz, Actis Dato is a charter member of the Italian Instabile Orchestra, leads or is part of numberless combos and was one of Buffa’s instructors in Turin. Except for one showcase, where he strums guitar-like on the smaller instrument, bassist/cellist Fiorenzo Bodrato sticks pretty much to time-keeping. Meanwhile drummer Dario Mazzucco, who alongside the bassist previously recorded with Actis Dato, uses all of parts of his kit sparingly in a clean, articulated fashion.

A piece such as “Teimoso (Tanga City)” is typical. As Mazzucco’s beat rebounds and Bodrato walks, the antiphony between Actis Dato’s baritone and Buffa’s tenor is palpable. Before the two reach a climax of distinctive reed bites, the baritonist vamps behind him as Buffa expels a series of bravura variations that distend the theme but don’t interrupt its linear flow. Frequently throughout Actis Dato sticks to pedal point accompaniment on bari or bass clarinet, leaving the straight-ahead, slurping or split-tone expositions to the other saxophonist. An exception is “Don Charlotte (Manzè)”, where the bouncing, hornpipe-like melody expressed in low-pitched snorts and contrapuntal growls fancifully showcase a band of Eastern European dancers who could dwell on the isle. In his solo, Mazzucco expertly spins stick patterns bounces, drags, rebounds and timed paradiddles into an effective mix.

Before that the drummer defines the title on “S.P. Shuffle” with that designated beat, while the two reedists are involved in moderato call-and-response, sounding like an updated Zoot Sims and Gerry Mulligan. Elsewhere the four may depend on strained or staccato interaction, but nowhere do the results make the musical scenery any less than pleasant.

Exploratory enough to demonstrate the band members’ talents, the musical panorama presented here suggests that many sound travellers would benefit by making it a favored stopover.

Tracks: Sing the Lifeguard on the Beach (Beach); Jo Jo (Dow Land); Teimoso (Tanga City); Soft Memory (Rue l’Ostorion); Barley Coffee for Hamlet (Elsinor); Transizione (Scilla E Cariddi); Toutes Les Clarinettes En France (Sur Loire); S. P. Shuffle (Mobile Launching Platform); Don Carlotte (Manzè); Serpent’s Thought (Apple Field)

Personnel: Andrea Buffa: alto and tenor saxophones; bass clarinet; Carlo Actis Dato: baritone and tenor saxophones; bass clarinet; Fiorenzo Bodrato: bass; cello); Dario Mazzucco: drums

—For New York City Jazz Record April 2012