Daniele Cavallanti and the Milano Contemporary Art Ensemble

Sounds of Hope
Rudi Records RRJ1026

High quality Jazz by anyone’s standards, Milan-based tenor saxophonist Daniele Cavallanti convened some of Italy top improvisers to create a sonic manifesto that confirms the talents of his associates. At the same time as the seven tracks inhabited by the 14-piece Milano Contemporary Art Ensemble (MCAE) showcase its mastery of the idiom, the performances reveal not only the expected Italian-American connections, but also the Italians’ adaptability to African tunes. As the band plays three tunes by the late South African trumpeter Mongezi Feza (1945-1975), it’s helpful to note that the southern tip of the Italian peninsula in separated from Northern Africa by a small body of water. Additionally, trade links have existed between the continents for many centuries.

One shouldn’t make too much of this however since the MCAE’s expertise is with Modern Jazz in all its variations. The other tunes include one by Wayne Shorter (“Chief Crazy Horse”) – with no faux Amerindian beats – another (“The Boss”) dedicated to Cavallanti by earthy trombonist Beppe Caruso, who acquits himself impressively throughout, plus two by the tenor saxophonist himself. Upfront tributes, “The Joe Rivers Blues” honors Joe Henderson and Sam Rivers, while “Braxtown” – notable for the exciting turbulence engendered as Gianluca Elia on bass saxophone and Massimo Falascone on contrabass saxophone chase each other with stentorian resonations like rogue elephants in a circus show – is named for Anthony Braxton and Roscoe Mitchell. As Elia and Falascone powerfully waddle through “Braxtown”, a peppy march conveyed by dual percussionists Toni Boselli and Tiziano Tononi, keeps the exposition as much big band as big top; Elia even throws in a quote from “Salt Peanuts”. By the conclusion though, the big cats in the centre ring are actually the two percussions plus pianist Alberto Tacchini, whose dynamic power makes it appear as if the playbill is also advertising a replication of the nimblest keyboard explorer of all – perhaps Cecil Taylor – plus twin drummers with identical speed and reflexes – imagine Sonny Murray or Andrew Cyrille if each had a twin brother percussionist.

In a similar fashion “The Joe Rivers Blues” and “Chief Crazy Horse” gives Cavallanti perfect settings in which to brandish the tenor saxophone command he’s developed during 44 years in the business. With the first an overt foot-stomper, the saxophonist comes on with the barrel-chested power of a Joe Lovano, but one who can use multiphonics and split-tone strategies to move his solos into the unknown reaches of Free Jazz if need be. Before all the horns assemble for a tutti finale, Cavallanti has been fed endless chord substitutions and rhythmic comping from Tacchini and faced-off with Caruso’s rumbling plunger tones. The tenor saxophonist confirms his ballad mastery on the second tune, where his emotionalism is expressed by what can only be described as a catch in his throat as he plays. His passionate inclination is given further rhapsodic overtones when violist Paolo Botti using multi string pressure and string stopping to swing and swoon as he plays the melody. Remember Joe Venuti was as Italian as Enrico Caruso.

Feza’s “You Ain’t Gonna Know Me ‘Cos You Think You Know Me” played all the way though once and in under two minutes as a coda, plus his “Sonia” are other highpoints here. Never patronizing, the Italians are sophisticated enough in their interpretations that they introduce new elements to the pieces. “You Ain’t…” for instance is given a defiant exposition, reminiscent of “Take a Walk on the Wild Side”, through trumpeter Calabrese and bass clarinetist Francesco Chiapperini are the chief protagonists. The anathematic narration is also pushed aside long enough to reveal a free section filled with whinnying brass and lowing reeds. And this further strengthens the jubilant finale. As for the other tune, Tononi’s cultivated command of Third World percussion makes this exercise in Township Jive reflect Reggae, and the parade ground band as much as Kwela.

Overall the sounds of hope on this disc are those of exceptional, high-quality music being played.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. The Joe Rivers Blues 2. You Ain’t Gonna Know Me ‘Cos You Think You Know Me 3. The Boss 4. Braxtown* 5. Chief Crazy Horse 6. Sonia 7. You Ain’t Gonna Know Me ‘Cos You Think You Know Me (reprise)

Personnel: Luca Calabrese (trumpet); Beppe Caruso (trombone); Francesco Chiapperini (bass clarinet, alto saxophone and flute); Riccardo Luppi (alto and soprano saxophones and flute); Daniele Cavallanti (tenor saxophone); Gianluca Elia (tenor or bass* saxophones) Massimo Falascone (sopranino, baritone or contrabass* saxophones); Alberto Tacchini (piano); Paolo Botti (viola, cornet) Gianluca Alberti and Valerio Della Fonte (bass); Toni Boselli (drums) and

Tiziano Tononi (drums, percussion and gongs)