Porta Palace Collective + Rob Mazurek

Rudi Records EEJ 1038

Two years have seen a few changes since the previous CD by the top-flight Turin-based Porta Palace Collective (PPC) directed by trumpeter Johnny Lapio. While Lapio, who also leads the Arcote Project, which jumps from blues and swing to avant garde, is still front-and-centre alongside saxophonist Giuseppe Ricupero and bassist Gianmaria Ferrario, the other players have changed. Now Ricupero has moved from tenor to baritone, and the band is filled out by tenor saxophonist Pasquale Innarella, pianist Lino Mei and drummer Donato Stolfi. Another matter that’s consistent is the calibre of PPC’s guests though. Last time out it was Natsuki Tamura and Satoko Fujii. This time it’s Chicago cornetist Rob Mazurek. However there’s no foreign Jazz Star grandstanding on these five club-recorded tracks. Only the most sophisticated ear can probably distinguish the timbres of each brass player.

But again that’s not the point. Mazurek is integrated within the ensemble. What is important though, is noting how well the group moves through Lapio’s compositions, which are mostly played without pause. Ricupero’s deep dark tone sets off the dual brass instruments, while despite how many distorted spits and bites Innarella unearths during his solos, his FreeBop allusions lock-in with the swaying, contemporary swing orientation of the rhythm section. A fine instance of this occurs on “Instant”, where a long-lined exposition consisting in equal parts of reed snarls, segmented corkscrew trumpeting plus a swirling rhythm section undertow, gives way half way through to a bluesy intersection of walking bass chords, drum pops and Mei’s most notable solo. Singularly his variations manage to be both raggedy and Ragtime-inflected at the same time.

The concluding “Why Not?” wraps up the whole program categorically and decisively with Lapio’s poppy solo coloring the shuffle beat as simple rhythms emanate from the drummer and pianist. Mazurek’s Chicago roots may be obvious half-way through however, as an R&B-styled melody is assayed by one brass player, backed by a keyboard vamp, and later on when all the horns alternate instrumental call-and-responses tinged with gospelish hand-clapping rhythms.

If Stone the CD does crumble in part, it relates to the hints of nightclub-friendly sounds. A couple of times one isn’t sure whether a brass obbligato is played distantly because of the arrangement or by mic placement, and Mei’s keyboard smarts are frequently undermined by a tinny electric piano sound that could have wondered in from a 1970s 45.

Other than that, the proper question that “Why Not?” seems to answer resoundingly is: “Should the Porta Palace Collective make more CDs?”

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Stone: 1. Stone 2. Instant 3. Neuroplastic Groove 5. Itineraries 6. Why Not?

Personnel: Rob Mazurek (cornet); Johnny Lapio (trumpet); Pasquale Innarella (tenor saxophone); Giuseppe Ricupero (baritone saxophone); Lino Mei (piano); Gianmaria Ferrario (bass, electronics) and Donato Stolfi (drums)