XY Quartet

Nusica.Org 05

Trio (MIT) Marlene

The Surface of an Object

Rudi Records RRJ1025

Perhaps there were great sales on acoustic bass guitars in Italy a few years back. At least that’s may be one of the reasons that two compelling sets of small group improvisation recorded within a month of one another feature accomplished players on the uncommon – for Jazz at least – instrument. Like the gap between travelled immigrants and settled nationals however, the conceptions and undertaking of the sounds that define the XY Quartet and Trio (MIT) Marlene differ in more than personnel and track numbers.

XY is built around the chilled alto saxophone elaborations of Nicola Fazzini, who has played with musicians as different as clarinetist Tony Scott and guitarist Elliott Sharp, plus the purposely downplayed pulse of acoustic bass guitarist Alessandro Fedrigo, whose collaborators range from trumpeter Enrico Rava to composer Carla Bley. Adding the vibes of Saverio Tasca and the drumming of Luca Colussi, the eight tracks of the CD, recorded in the quartet’s home base of Treviso are often as unperturbed as section of the Mediterranean. Most of the voyage swings buoyantly, with occasional avant-garde billows attesting that the program isn’t as smooth as it first appears.

Trading the Mediterranean for the East River, The Surface of an Object was recorded in Brooklyn by three Jazz immigrants to the United States. Italian-born acoustic bass guitarist Giacomo Merega, who has also recorded with saxophonist Noah Kaplan and guitarist David Tronzo, composed the four-part suite that makes up the program. It moves at a vacillating pace tinged with microtonal motifs as well as unexpected jumps and jiggers. Along with Merega are Japanese percussionist Satoshi Takeishi and Israeli-born Michaël Attias on alto saxophone plus the occasional Wurlitzer piano aside. Long-time New Yorkers, Takeishi and Attias play together in the Renku group. Overall, XY swings appropriately, as The Surface of an Object unfolds slowly.

While fully group conversant, each member of Trio (MIT) Marlene follows a different if complementary strategy that doesn’t meld so much as bounce off each other’s sonic impulses like a handball off a concrete wall. Possessed of a lustrous Lee Konitz-like tone at points, on tracks such as “How to build a wall with your head” Attias creates a flurry of carefully vibrated semi tones even up onto screech mode, until Merega’s corporeal thumb pop and the reedist’s own piano splats move his lines in parallel with the others. Attias’ gravelly tone is matched elsewhere by unruly clattering cymbals, as the bassist’s string thumps continue to provide the traffic cop direction in which the band moves.

Featuring a title which appropriately sums up the improvisational; idea –plus it would seem honoring Austrian artist Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980) – the CD climaxes with the concluding “How it always vanishes (Kokoschka)”. After the drummer’s outburst which disrupts the line like a black cat jumping in a pedestrian’s path and is followed by strained altissimo blowing from the saxophonist, the three regroup into a theme which clips along alternating minimalist and straight-ahead motifs.

Should the other CD be compared to visual art concerned with abstract futurism, than XY is closely arranged so that the ornate detailing of more traditional art is visible – or in this case, audible. By inclination contemporary chamber Jazz, the eight tracks traipse along with reflections of the 1950s Cool School – from the West Coast of Italy perhaps? Ideas and solos are obviously much more contemporary, but like an unexplored detail in a favored portrait there are times when Fazzini’s horn tone brushing up against Tasca’s relaxed motor-driven exposition as if recalling a duet between Stan Getz and Cal Tjader. That said, the introductory “Spazio angusto” has enough two-way sonic lacerations from Fazzini and Tasca, that it’s reminiscent of Jackie McLean and Bobby Hutcherson at their most atonal. Maybe that was the “cramped space”?

Other than that, like a quiz show answer, the most common adjectives associated with the XY Quartet would be relaxed and organized. Supple and pliable the heads, composed by either of the two leaders, appear as stabilized as Roman edifices which have survived the millennia. Fazzini’s wide, Oriental-styled timbres on “Astronautilo” for instance, still leave enough room from a splashy drum break; while ringing vibe tones that sometime flash by like jump wild animals in a circus tent, are, with the others, kept in line by the ringmaster style clout of Fedrigo’s string strokes. An exercise in descriptive titling, “H2O” erodes the Beboppy curves and repetition of its descending release with a theme whose vibe pops, bass plinks and drum slaps replicates Chinese water torture.

More surprising, like one of Fellini’s fantastical dream-like sequences dropped in the middle of an Italian Neorealist film, is a sequence that completes the penultimate “Tatami”. The earnest exposition that appears to be as unruffled as a sunny day at the seashore, is suddenly disrupted by seething dissonance created by an arco bass line, quickly followed by harsh horn blats and drum resonation. The intrusion is swiftly, with the final track confirming the session’s musical placidity.

“Tatami” conjectures that the XY Quartet’s Jazz-chamber music could have alternated with more challenging fare on this CD. Perhaps it will next time. If well-played superior chamber sounds are your preference, then aim for his disc; those demanding more musical confrontation should examine The Surface of an Object.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: XY: 1. Spazio angusto 2. Astronautilo 3. H2O 4. Cancellazioni 5. Jon Futuru 6. Doppio sogno 7. Tatami 8. Futuritmi

Personnel: XY: Nicola Fazzini (alto saxophone); Saverio Tasca (vibes); Alessandro Fedrigo (acoustic bass guitar) and Luca Colussi (drums)

Track Listing: Surface: 1. I - The physical margins of the novel 2. II - How to build a wall with your head 3. III – Life’s a photograph 4. IV - How it always vanishes (Kokoschka)

Personnel: Surface: Michaël Attias (alto saxophone, Wurlitzer piano); Giacomo Merega (acoustic bass guitar) and Satoshi Takeishi (percussion)