Spaghetti Jazz

Live in Buenos Aires
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Peripheral Vision

Spectacle: Live!

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Regrettably it often appears that national stereotypes have more veracity than natives would like to admit. While daily lives may be painted with a broad brush, analyzing the quirky details produces more than a tincture of truth. Take these two live, high-quality mainstream Jazz CDs for instance.

Spectacle: Live, recorded in Vancouver by a Toronto quartet is stimulatingly swinging, but still tempers the excitement with English-Canadian neatness and politeness. Never do musical loose ends hang or do any of the eight arrow-straight originals get out of hand. Live in Buenos Aries on the other hand matches free-flowing playing from a local drummer and saxophonist with the Dadaist concepts and multi-musical references of an Italian guitarist. Not only would no Canadian band ethnically typecast with an equivalent name to Spaghetti Jazz – how odd does Maple Sugar Improv sound? – but also few Canuck groups would tolerate the gloriously unfettered soloing, jokey game-playing and addition of electric toy sounds that Crema-based guitarist Enzo Rocco, tenor and soprano saxophonist Rodrigo Dominguez and drummer Hernán Mandelman bring to their session.

Underappreciated internationally – like all Canadians, musicians or not – the members of Peripheral Vision are still first-class professionals who could hold their own or best the playing of any equivalent American or European band working in the same contemporary style. All have worked successfully with international counterparts as well. Guitarist Don Scott for instance has played with Yank saxophonists like David Binney and Chris Potter; while PV’s co-leader with Scott, bassist Michael Herring has worked with saxophonists like Ab Baars and Binney. Saxophonist Trevor Hodge has gigged in the Netherlands and Canada with top stylists such as pianists Richard Whiteman; while drummer Nick Fraser’s experience ranges from membership in Toronto bands led by the likes of trumpeter Lina Allemano to working with players as different as Binney and pianist Marilyn Lerner.

With most of the tracks on Spectacle: Live! airy swingers, the first adjective that comes to mind is “clean”. Made up of original compositions by the co-leaders, the combination of Hogg’s light-toned tenor and Scott’s guitar suggests an updated take on latter day Stan Getz. A piece such as “Butter Side Down” with some slippery guitar variations sounds fresh yet familiar simultaneously. Latino music harmonies are insinuated on “Says Yes” with springy percussion, stinging picking from Herring and Hogg’s flutter-tongued solo encompassing ghost notes and higher pitches. Tougher, but still not sweaty, “Max” raises the ante with Fraser’s shuffle beat plus Scott’s and Hogg’s parallel improvising that gracefully fit each other’s thought processes. The guitarist’s slurred fingering and minor tone distortions perfectly complement the saxophonist’s slippery tongue elaborations, only to clank metallically once Fraser varies his strokes to blunt rat tat tats and rolls.

Performances are a little more frenetic when Tim-bits are traded for a meal of spaghetti and grilled meat. As early as Live in Buenos Aires’ lengthy second track kazoo peeps, subterranean sax blats and off-kilter martial rhythms are front and centre. Gentle anarchism mixed with collective improvisation is a hallmark of Rocco, whose playing partners over the years have included those who proffer mischief making alongside note sourcing such as Italian saxophonist Carlo Actis Dato and French drummer Bruno Tocanne. Active as a teacher s well as a band leader, Buenos Aires-based tenor and soprano saxophonist Rodrigo Dominguez, is part of combos dedicated to electronics, organ-sounds, local pop salutes and plays free improv with American visitors like bassist Mark Helias and drummer Barry Altschul. Experienced after working in both Brazil and his native Argentina, drummer Hernán Mandelman is in bands featuring local players as well as visitors like saxophonist Natalio Sued now an Amsterdam resident.

Rocco’s presence brings out everyone’s clowning on Spaghetti Jazz, especially since all the compositions are the guitarist’s. For example “Todos los pepinos del mundo” works out as a combination march and tango with the drummer supplying a habanera-style beat while the saxophonist outputs marching-band tuba lines – except in his solos which are slurpy and nasal enough to suggest his sax has a Varitone attachment. Meanwhile the guitarist provides flamenco-style strumming, a broad contrast to his work on “Il beccheggio” where his licks channel surf bands, arena Rock excess and cowboy pickers. All-and-all though the tune’s climax is a generalized cha-cha beat.

Spaghetti Jazz’s most characteristic interface occurs on the connecting tracks “Cuartal” and “Insectos molestos”. From the top as Rocco picks on unperturbed, Mandelman unloads a collection of clatters, bangs, slaps, pops and rebounds and Dominguez moves from staccato shrilling on plastic instruments to duetting with himself, successively stretching trills or linear split tones. Encouraged by the guitarist’s rough rasgueado and the drummer’s rhythmic plops, bangs and cymbal smacks, the reedist honks, slurs and elongates his pressurized vibrations finally dovetailing into a crackling finale that mixes his contributions with slide-whistle peeps and below-the-bridge snaps from Rocco.

Profound sounds individually, both the Spaghetti Jazz trio and the Peripheral Vision quartet advance live date strategies with the South American free-for-all more exciting than the buttoned-down British Columbia gig. Judging from the musicianship exhibited all around though, the ideal mix would be to give the Latinos some Canadian discipline while somehow loosening up the Canucks – then combining the seven players. Who wouldn’t like pasta carbonara made with Canadian bacon?

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Spectacle: 1. Living the Dream 2. Teenage Breakup Song 3. Butter Side Down 4. Subway Subtle 5. Abide 6 Max 7. Instigator 8. Says You

Personnel: Spectacle: Trevor Hogg (tenor saxophone); Don Scott (guitar); Michael Herring (bass) and Nick Fraser (drums)

Track Listing: Live: 1. Un perro nefasto 2. Stefania e il naso 3. Ciabatte 4. Mavalà/Tre sorelle/Garibbà 5. Todos los pepinos del mundo 6. Cuartal 7. Insectos molestos 8. Aargh! 9. Il beccheggio

Personnel: Live: Rodrigo Dominguez (tenor and soprano saxophones, electronic toys); Enzo Rocco (guitar, whistles, kazoos and toys) and Hernán Mandelman (drums)