Roots Magic Sextet

September 19, 2023

Long Old Road
Clean Feed CF 623 CD

Daniele Cavallanti & The Songlines Band
The Dreamtime
Felmay FY 7073

Histories of Jazz confirm that following the great number of African-American musicians who created and disseminated the music it was players of Jewish and Italian background who made the most contributions to the evolving art form. These talents seem to have migrated back to the countries of origin. For instance these two CDs feature all-Italian combos improvising on a series of mostly originals with the same spunk, grit and soul originally thought to be only North American traits.

Having settled on a sextet form from their previous quintet configuration, the Roots Magic band add the skills of vibist/percussionist Francesco Lo Cascio and flutist/saxophonist Eugenio Colombo to those of saxophonist Errico De Fabritiis, bassist Gianfranco Tedeschi, percussionist Fabrizio Spera and multi-instrumentalist Alberto Popolla. The group has also evolved from playing unique versions of US Blues and Free Jazz classics to mostly creating its own compositions based on those influences. Meanwhile all the tracks on The Dreamtime were composed by tenor saxophonist Daniele Cavallanti or his close associate, percussionist Tiziano Tononi. But they and their band mates in The Songlines Band – dual trombonists Alessandro Castelli trombone and Tony Cattano, dual bassists Roberto Frassini Moneta and Andrea Grossi. and soprano saxophonist Roberto Ottaviano still create in the paradigm defined by Charles Mingus influenced roots, gospel and Blues.

While flute and vibraphone breaks are most common on Long Old Road, their light textures merely confirm the resolute bulk of the rhythmically propelled tracks. Overall most compositions contrast these interludes – and similar trills from the soprano sax – with concentrated cries and squeezed smears from saxophone section riffs as well as Spera’s paced rolls, pumps and cymbal clanks. In this way they manage to put a Mediterranean spin on the type of combination funk and free music sophisticated bands like the AACM’s 8 Bold Souls pioneered. This is most obvious on “Run As Slow As You Can” where harmonized reed vamps surround sax solos featuring split tones and snorts as well as multi-mallet resonations from the vibes. Bent note twangs from Spera’s zither and clangs from Popolla’s banjo on the title tune provide an interface both stop-time and slinky as swelling clarion reed notes confirm the tune’s modernity. The stacked reed motif works especially well on tunes which modulate from andante to allegro tempos and back again. While Tedeschi occasionally interjects arco stops, his main contribution is a faultless walking pulse. Similarly clarinet trills and vibe resonations often brighten the narratives. But when vibraphone pops are stacked up with other percussion sounds or clarinet trills splayed in in broken octave counterpoint with De Fabritiis’ baritone saxophone, additional power escalates, even as bent notes and varied pacing break up expositions. Carl Massey’s “Things Have Got To Change” confirm the light/dark hard/soft strategy on the concluding track. An introduction of paced vibe reverb hardens into sustain thumps underscored by thick drum patterns, with both tones given additional weight by baritone sax burps followed by an almost impenetrable reed vamp. Adding gritty flute blowing in the last section confirms the didactic message.

Working in the same Mingus-Blues-AACM tranche but with significant additions is the Songlines Band. Like the Roots Magic compositions, those on Dreamtime each come with a dedication. But the veteran improvisers, who have experience in groups like the Italian Instabile Orchestra cast their musical net wider. Dedicated to the late South African bassist Johnny Dyani, for instance, “Mbizo” introduces kweala-like Township Jive rhythms into an exposition which begins with hard and heavy double bass thumps. After accented rim shots, plunger trombone whines and a double-tongued soprano sax formulation, Cavallanti’s triple tongued expression adds a Blues base to his composition, though the other horns’ snarling riffs preserve the initial Africanized theme. More generic to the album, while saluting subjects as diverse as Australian aboriginals and Pharoah Sanders, Cavallanti’s other compositions dig deeper into Blues and Funk roots. The extended title tune for example swells gutbucket trombone blasts, supple double bas plucks, squirming soprano sax trills and percussion crushes into a paced exposition that intensifies as it evolves. With concentrated riffs referencing the canon “Frère Jacques”, as the tune advances its four and eight bar measure breaks, honking horn smears and col legno string slaps become more pressurized. Eventually the septet members combine the theme and riffs into a crescendo that leads to a false climax and then a final one with drum rolls and reed toots. “The Stalking Moon”, Tononi’s three-part contribution also builds on many of these tropes. Using his percussion finesse to highlight a roaring drum beat as well as exotic bell shaking, rim clicks and gong-echoing coloration, he sets up a suite that focuses on extended techniques without losing a rhythmic base. Once booming double bass stops have set up the exposition, an acapella cuckoo-clock-like call-and-response interlude from the saxophonists subvert it, until a dramatic tenor saxophone variation adds color and excitement to the theme, while Tononi’s rapid paradiddles and ruffs back him up. Plunger slurs and half-valve stress from the trombones add emotional heft to the narrative that snakes forward with angled asides until the drummer’s near-military precision rightens the theme helped by portamento brass and opposed by liquid trills from Ottaviano. Contrast gives way to connection during the final sequence as stacked reeds, brassy shakes and a swinging pulse from the bassist and drummer create diminishing theme repetitions until the finale.

American have downloaded many inappropriate and unpleasant shibboleth onto Europeans over the years. The dissemination of musical invention in Jazz and Blues forms are some of the few practices which have contributed to old county arts. Both these bands show how well locals have adopted and created individual forms from those incursions.

Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Long: 1. When The Elephant Walks 2. Sula 3. Run As Slow As You Can 4. Blue Lines 5. Long Old Road 6, Amber 7. Bullying Well 8. Drinking Coffee Elsewhere 9. Things Have Got To Change

Personnel: Long: Errico De Fabritiis (alto and baritone saxophones); Eugenio Colombo (flutes, soprano saxophone); Alberto Popolla (clarinets, electric bass, banjo); Gianfranco Tedeschi (bass); Francesco Lo Cascio (vibraphone, percussion); Fabrizio Spera (drums, percussion, zither)

Track Listing: Dreamtime: 1. The Dreamtime 2. Black Leo 3. Mbizo 4. Sean’s Tones 5. The Stalking Moon

Personnel: Dreamtime: Alessandro Castelli and Tony Cattano (trombones); Roberto Ottaviano (soprano saxophone); Daniele Cavallanti tenor saxophone); Roberto Frassini Moneta and Andrea Grossi (bass); Tiziano Tononi (drums, percussion, gongs)