The Siena Jazz Band: Abstrutions (2004)

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Abstrutions is the second recording by Italy’s Siena Jazz Big Band, which was formed in 1994 as a part of the “Associazone Siena Jazz” school and now includes professional musicians as well as students and amateurs. The band’s earlier album, GOP, comprised of ten songs associated with Duke Ellington and seven with Cannonball Adderley, was given a lukewarm reception by this reviewer.

The band stretches more this time around, covering tunes by a diverse assortment of composers from Django Reinhardt, Fats Waller, Benny Carter and Billy Strayhorn to Keith Jarrett, Wes Montgomery, Stanley Cowell, Tadd Dameron and others. There are two originals, “Psycofarma,” by bassist Franco Fabbrini, and “KV 428” by the band’s director, Klaus Lessman. The album opens and closes with brief renditions of Cannonball’s theme, bassist Sam Jones’s “Unit 7.”

While there’s no doubt that three years have made a difference in the band’s cohesion and prowess, there’s also no doubt that this is basically a college-level ensemble, even though an admirable one in many respects. Brass and reeds are usually on the mark, the rhythm section sharp and supportive, and if the soloists aren’t especially spellbinding they are at least respectable. Lead trumpeter Maurizio Pasqui is a standout on “KV 428” (recorded in concert, with a minor stereo glitch in midstream), guitarist Diego Perugini likewise on the two compositions by Montgomery, “Mr. Walker” and “Movin’ Along.”

Lessman is another of the soloists, unlimbering his clarinet on Reinhardt’s “Lentement, mademoiselle,” Carter’s “Lonesome Nights,” Strayhorn’s “Lotus Blossom” (on which he excels) and “But Not for Me/Tadd‘s Delight,” his soprano sax on “Bem Bom,” one of three vocals by Maria Laura Bigliazzi who returns from GOP (the others are “Frankie and Johnny” and “But Not for Me”). As before, Ms. Bigliazzi has her problems with the English language and seems far more at ease on the Brazilian “Bem Bom,” which she interprets delightfully. In sum, a meaningful step forward for the Siena Jazz Big Band, which continues to advance under Mr. Lessman’s able guidance.

Track Listing: Unit 7; Lentement, mademoiselle; Is It Really the Same?; Mr. Walker; Frankie and Johnny; Psycofarma; Alligator Crawl; Lonesome Nights; Bem Bom; Movin

Personnel: Klaus Lessman, conductor, clarinet, soprano sax; Maurizio Pasqui, Massimo Muratori, Fabrizio Cappelli, Giacomo Uncini, Jan Szurmant, Aldo Iacono, trumpet; Alberto Solari, Massimiliano Santella, Cristian Tognalini, Federico Martini, Erhard Gatterer, trombone; Luca Ravagni, alto sax, flute; Andrea Belleschi, Patrizia Cresti, alto sax; Massimo Guerri, tenor sax, clarinet; Fabio Carboncini, Paolo Galluzzi, tenor sax; Justin Harris, baritone sax; Diego Perugini, guitar; Roberto Bartali, piano; Franco Fabbrini, electric bass; Duccio Venturini, drums; Maria Laura Bigliazzi, vocals.

Style: Big Band

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