Dino Betti Van Der Noot

God Save the Earth
Sam Productions SAM 9026

Dino Betti Van Der Noot

The Humming Cloud

Sam Productions SAM 9008

Dino Betti Van Der Noot

September’s New Moon

Sam Productions SAM 9036

Perhaps it’s serendipity, maturing or a new decade, but at 75, Milan-based composer, Dino A. Betti van der Noot has finally found the perfect vehicle for his carefully buffed, impressionistically melodious, mini-tone poems. Furthermore the two dozen strong ensemble, including many of the country`s top players that he uses, adds the necessary timbral exoticism and cadenced beat to toughen his sometimes translucent melodies.

This reflection of Betti Van Der Noot sonic nirvana takes place within the five miniature suites which make up September’s New Moon, a triumphant session put together in 2011. Revealingly, analyzing his two previous efforts – The Humming Cloud from 2006 and God Save the Earth from 2009 – with many of the same players on board, uncovers a gradual strengthening and whetting of his compositional motifs. But neither reaches the top rank. Despite fine-tuned arrangement and the stirrings of his facility to blend exotic and expected timbres, on those CDs, shading and modulations supersede the necessary pulse that characterizes the most impressive Jazz and improvised music. There are too many flimsy pastels and not enough bold colors.

Despite his talents, Rapallo-born Betti Van Der Noot is practically unknown outside his native Italy. This most likely has to do with his on-again/off-again career in Jazz. Although he led combos in the late 1950s, studied at Boston’s Berklee College of Music in the 1970s and has led big bands occasionally since the 1980s, featuring players as disparate as pianist Paul Bley and clarinetist Gianluigi Trovesi, he also had a career in adverting, composing jingles and eventually becoming the chairman of B Communications, a prominent Milan ad agency.

Luckily there are no jingles-like melodies on the first two CDs, despite the presence of vocalists Ginger Brew, Simona Bondanza and Sofia Woodpecker. Putting aside the somewhat naïve sentiments expressed – a drawback that extends to September’s New Moon – the focus is on Van Der Noot’s instrumental work. Throughout The Humming Cloud for instance, the splattering and swaying strings, smoothed saxophone slurs, blurred bass flute puffs, cricket-like marimba beats from Elio Marchesini, and frequent Jaco Pastorius-like electric bass lines from Gianluca Alberti, over-harmonize and nearly congeal the tunes. Balancing throughout on the ledge of commercial music – in both senses – without falling over, the pizzicato string jabs don`t appear to lighten the mood, neither do dense brass vamps. If there are echoes of Charles Mingus’ “The Clown” on the title tune for instance even the exotic percussion can’t mask equal suggestions of too-sweet Swing band harmonies. Plus why is Fabrizio Puglisi, one of Italy’s most accomplished Jazz pianists, playing as if he’s emulating Bopper Wade Legge in the latter’s one recording date with Mingus?

Taken as a whole, The Humming Cloud’s most accomplished and appealing track is “From Darkness to Light”. That’s precisely because the steady bump and grind thrust forward by Latin-like percussion, electric bass sluices and lumbering horn harmonies leaves enough space for some hearty gutbucket trombone splats from Beppe Caruso as well as a bluesy release from tenor saxophonist Daniele Cavallanti.

Three years later, the six-part program which makes up God Save the Earth demonstrates that van der Noot consciously or not is now adding unexpected timbres to the mix to loosen up the resonations. These include quivering glissandi and cross pulses from the signal-processing associated with Matteo Corda’s live electronics and sound programming, melodic low-frequency clacks from Alberto Tacchini’s piano and tremolo expansions from different trombonists and trumpeters. With Alberti and Marchesini again given noticeable space for their affiliated, but now expected, specialties, tracks such as “Maybe” and “Alone in the Crowd” which highlight different instrumental colors stand out – and presage Betti Van Der Noot’s later triumphs with September’s New Moon.

On the former track, while the composition is still expressed in muted colors, at least some palate-loosing leads to a three-dimensional effect. From the top, the massed cross-sticking and rumbling power of Francesco D’Auria’s and Tiziano Tononi’s drums and percussion cascades back-and-forth to contrast markedly with formalized piano cadenzas. A similar face-off occurs between Tacchini’s shifting piano arpeggios and the strained slurs from tenor saxophonist Giulio Visibelli. As the harmonized section work hardens into repeated motifs, crunching rhythm undercurrents arise not only from the dual percussionists but from Marchesini plus Vincenzo Zitello’s collection of ethnic instruments, culminating in bell-like accents.

Aptly titled, “Alone in the Crowd” is a showcase for Caruso’s masculine-sounding trombone working its way through a series of limber plunger expositions and flutter tonguing. Around him the tension-laden narrative is given added heft by bulky orchestral sequences. Additionally showcased include: whining, altissimo excursions by alto saxophonist Sandro Cerino – sometimes in juddering counterpoint with D’Auria’s smacked cymbals; cellist Marco Ricci’s knitted or sharp string slices; plus swirling piano lines and unison muted trumpets expositions.

The first-class results of these experiments are expressed in the five, almost completely satisfying sequences which make up September’s New Moon. Finally brighter colors are revealed with flattened impressionistic-style writing succeeded by bolder and more highly tinted dabs and smears. As the variations ping-pong back and forth, the results are juddering and jaunty, with the composer apparently unafraid to let the program shout so that polyphony in all its guises can be present. Electronic-manipulator Coda’s programming now includes swells that could come from Hammond organ, while massed trumpets aim for the highest notes in their range. Pointedly as well, the steady measured electric-bass runs fit the sound picture more organically than they did on previous discs.

Two stand-out tracks, “A Muse in Wonderland” and “To Those Who Loved Us - To Those Who’ll Love Us” sequentially make up the penultimate and the climatic finale of the suite. Finally, on the first, hand-muted brass tones and bouncing drum bits don’t sound isolated. Neither do dizi-puffs from Cerino when put in sympathetic balance alongside Tacchini’s kinetic piano lines and Emmanuelle Perini’s spiccato fiddling.

Appropriately spectacular as well is the finale. Exploding in a mid-section which is as much Klangfarbenmelodie as cacophony, the holistic horn arrangements make common cause with husky electric-bass slurs, rolls and pops from all the drummers and chalumeau slurps from Sandro Cerino’s bass clarinet. Conclusively, as the pitches move from high to low and the beats from irregular to solid, all instruments are combined in chromatic motion, with solos arising in parallel fashion. Piano arpeggios and dizi blowing bring the piece to a halt with a two-pronged reminder of the traditional and exploratory nature of Betti Van Der Noot’s skills.

Now that it appears as if the composer has attained what he has been building up to over the past half decade, the only questions that remain are whether he can build on this triumph and broaden his work much further.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Humming: 1. The Humming Cloud 2. Hubris and Dust 3. From Darkness to Light 4. Our Wild Shangri-La 5. Lullaby for a Lion

Personnel: Humming: Mario Cavallaro, Diego Ruvidotti, Luigi Portoraro and Andrea Baroldi (trumpet and flugelhorn); Graziano Soave, Dario Cozzi (trombone); Alessio Nava (bass trombone); Beppe Caruso (trombone, mellophone and tuba); Sandro Cerino, Daniele Cavallanti, Maria Teresa Battistessa, Daniela Ievolo and Cinzia Castiglione (flutes, clarinets and saxophones); Fabrizio Puglisi (piano); Sergio Taglioni (electronic keyboards and sound programming); Marco Ricci (cello); Gianluca Alberti (electric bass); Vincenzo Zitello (classic, Bardic and Celtic harps); Tiziano Tononi (drums); Elio Marchesini (marimba, vibraphone and percussion); Jonathan Scully (timpani and percussion); Ginger Brew and Simona Bondanza (vocals)

Track Listing: God: 1. God Save the Earth 2. In the Beginning was Beauty 3. Maybe 4. Like a Circle in the Water 5. Alone in the Crowd 6. City Morning

Personnel: God: Alberto Mandarini, Beppe Virone, Marco Sozzi and Andrea Terzuolo (trumpets); Beppe Caruso, Graziano Soave, Dario Cozzi, Sergio Lombardi (trombones and tuba); Sandro Cerino, Giulio Visibelli, Maria Teresa Battistessa, Daniela Ievolo, Gilberto Tarocco (woodwinds and reeds); Alberto Tacchini (piano); Marco Ricci (cello); Gianluca Alberti (electric bass); Francesco D’Auria and Tiziano Tononi (drums and percussion); Elio Marchesini (vibraphone and marimba); Vincenzo Zitello (wire-strung harp, bawu, dizi and kalimba); Matteo Corda (live electronics and sound programming); Ginger Brew and Sofia Woodpecker (vocals)

Track Listing: September: 1. September’s New Moon 2. When Love Fails 3. Bluesea 4. A Muse in Wonderland 5. To Those Who Loved Us -To Those Who’ll Love Us

Personnel: September: Gianpiero Lo Belllo, Alberto Mandarini, Alberto Capra, Luca Calabrese and Marco Fior (trumpet and flugelhorn); Humberto Amesquita, Carlo Napolitano, Francesca Petrolo (trombone); Gianfranco Marchesi (bass trombone); Francesco Bianchi (clarinet and alto saxophone); Sandro Cerino (soprano and alto saxophones, clarinet and bass clarinet, flute and alto flute, dizi); Giulio Visibelli (banzuri, soprano and alto saxophones, flute and alto flute); Claudio Tripoli (tenor saxophone and flute); Gilberto Tarocco (alto flute, clarinet and baritone saxophone); Emanuele Parrini (violin); Alberto Tacchini (piano); Luca Ventimiglia (vibraphone); Vincenzo Zitello (clarsach harp); Gianluca Alberti (electric bass); Stefano Bertoli and Tiziano Tononi (drums and percussion); Matteo Corda (live electronics and sound programming); Ginger Brew and Sofia Woodpecker (vocals)