Noé Clerc / Luka Ignjatović / Miloš Budimirov / Kristijan Mlačak / Mihail Ivanov / Marko Đorđević / Đorđe Kujundžić / Srdjan Ivanović / Vladimir Vereš / Teodor Blagojević / Vladimir Nikolov / Magic Malik

February 1, 2021

Frame and Curiosity

Coolabel CL004

Andrea Grossi Blend Orchestra

Four Winds

We Insist! Records CD WE N09

Extending the large ensemble tradition in improvised music is the aim of these Pan-European ensembles. In this aspiration both orchestras have much to express. However the promise or curse of comprehensive advanced music by the bands’ leaders and composer/arranger means that the resulting sound is likely more conventional than they initially imagined.

Consisting of 12 young veteran Italian players, the Blend Orchestra reflects the compositional vision of Milan-based bassist Andrea Grossi. Someone who has played in group such as Daniele Cavallanti and Tiziano Tononi’s Nexus and Giancarlo Locatelli’s Pipeline, he also leads the Blend trio, featuring alto saxophonist Manuel Caliumi and guitarist Michele Bonifati. Those two plus Locatelli are also part of this orchestra.

Initially ambulating at a moderate pace with precise organization, Filippo Sala’s fluid drum rumbles with “Xanthose” “Borea” and “Balios” eventually define Four Winds parameters. While elevated oboe and flute pitches maintain Grossi’s nods towards formalism on the first tune, heavier drum smacks chunky guitar licks and a plunger solo from trombonist Andrea Baronchelli bring in not only a contrasting leitmotif, but also closer compositional ties to Jazz and Rock. The development during “Borea” and “Balios” which serves as this sequence’s coda/completion put a more definite stamp on the plans. Splintering a full-orchestral entrance into massed reed outpouring stacked up against Rebecca Roda’s English horn variations, harsh guitar flanges and undulating saxophone bites muscle the exposition up the scale and into pressurized altissimo split tones as the narrative landscape widens. Completing the musical thought with “Balios”, reed spetrofluctuation and squawks subvert too comfortable harmonies even as conventional movement stays constant.

Although the following tracks live up to this promise, hints of over-arrangement in transitions and solos threaten to lead tunes towards blandness as the latter pieces are framed. Luckily the concluding “Noto (Part 1)” and “Noto (Part 2)” use a piercing French horn tone and pseudo bugling from trumpeter Paolo Malacarne to set off a Dixieland-like jape that removes the solemnity related to what could be a clarinet concerto. Jollity is maintained as “Noto (Part 2)” and the CD concludes with gentle swing encompassing thoroughly contemporary reed and brass squeaks and slurps.

If Four Winds barely escapes static arrangements which plague many academic ensembles, then there are points at which Fame and Curiosity moves dangerously close to Pop-Jazz. Brainchild of Sarajevo-born, Greek-raised drummer Srdjan Ivanović, who studied lives in Paris, the 12-picee French-Serbian ensemble is also directed by the compositions and arrangements of Skopje,-born pianist Vladimir Nikolov. The idea is to mix Jazz and ethic inflections reflecting the pianist’s considerable orchestral experience and the drummer’s work for film and theatre. What this means is that unexpected sounds issuing from Teodor Blagojević’s French horn, Miloš Budimirov’s tuba and Noé Clerc’s accordion are mixed with tones from the expected reeds, strings, brass and rhythm. The co-composers both have a Pop sensibility, which is evidenced on the 11 track by the frequent use of Nikolov’s keyboards and Mihail Ivanov’s bass guitar. The tendency is further exacerbated by inviting Guadeloupe-raised Malik Mezzadri to join the band. Someone whose experience has encompassed Pop and World Music plus Jazz, his wordless vocalizing and Ian Anderson-out-of-Rahsaan Roland Kirk flute playing raises the melodramatic quotient.

Clerc’s accordion pumps set up the program as early as “L’Etranger”, the first track and continue throughout the disc. But even so despite timbral singularity from his supple tremolo lines as well as tuba blurts and slapping continuum from Nikolov plus Ivanovic’s repertoire of paradiddles, ratchets and time slices, many transitions appear too pat and the climaxes a little too perfect. Sound track echoes win over needed sloppiness and sweat.

When acoustic guitar licks and horn harmonies are emphasized on the final tracks, this leaning towards smoothness becomes more pronounced. Malik’s snoozy flute peeping harmonized with wordless cries on “Memories”, plus other impeccably output solos start to suggest that perhaps soporific background music was the bandleaders’ aim.

Tracks such as “Sade Sati” with its overtly swinging theme propelled by unfussy piano lines and harmonized horns provide some hope. Trumpeter Marko Đorđević even manages to knock out the sort of sophisticated b brassy solo Thad Jones would have contributed to the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra so that even French horn mellowness and flute flutters take on additional toughness.

Ranking these sessions on their merits, Andrea Grossi Blend Orchestra has created a notable if somewhat overly conservative take on big band improvisation. Meanwhile the Nikolov- Ivanović Undectet’s style is so undetected that it could be mistaken for Pop music. One should follow future Grossi projects and hope that individually or collectively the Undectet players will be tougher on any future output.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Four 1. Zóphis 2. Zephiro 3. Xanthose 4. Borea 5. Balios 6. Zephiro Toma 7. Euro (Part 1) 8, Euro (Part 2) 9. Noto (Part 1) 10. Noto (Part 2)

Personnel: Four: Paolo Malacarne (trumpet); Andrea Baronchelli (trombone, bass tuba); Gabriele Fava (soprano, tenor saxophones, flute); Manuel Caliumi (alto saxophone): Massimiliano Milesi (tenor, soprano saxophones); Giancarlo “Nino” Locatelli (Bb, bass clarinets); Caterina Biagiarelli (flute, piccolo); Rebecca Roda (oboe, English horn); Simone Quatrana (piano); Michele Bonifati (guitar); Andrea Grossi (bass); Filippo Sala (drums)

Track Listing: Frame: 1. L’Etranger 2. Timbre and Prayer 3. Komsija 4. Across The Threshold 5. Anonymous 6. Carefree 7. Long Ago (Intro) 8. Far Away 9. Sade Sati 10. Memories 11. One More Day

Personnel: Frame: Marko Đorđević (trumpet, flugelhorn); Vladimir Vereš (trombone); Teodor Blagojević (French horn); Miloš Budimirov (tuba); Luka Ignjatović (alto saxophone, flute); Kristijan Mlačak (tenor saxophone clarinet); Đorđe Kujundžić (baritone saxophone, bass clarinet); Malik Mezzadri (flute, vocals) Vladimir Nikolov (piano, keyboards, guitar); Noé Clerc (accordion); Mihail Ivanov (bass, bass guitar); Srđan Ivanović (drums, percussion)