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Ark String Project: Acquario (2004)

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Arké String Project: Acquario How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

Certainly less a traditional jazz album and more a chamber group recording, Acquario features the Arké String Project, a less-than-traditional string quartet augmented by double-bass. But despite all the through-composed work on the album, there is room made for improvisation on some levels, courtesy of guest pianist Stephano Bollani, heard recently on trumpeter Enrico Rava's outstanding ECM release Easy Living , and EGEA stable mate, clarinetist Gabriele Mirabassi. The result is something that, while less dramatic, somehow brings to mind Oregon's collaboration with a symphony orchestra, Oregon in Moscow.

Consisting, with the exception of one piece, of original material by violinists Carlo Cantini and Valentino Corvino, violist Sandra Di Paolo, bassist Stefano Dall'Ora and Bollani, Acquario is less overtly Mediterranean in nature than most EGEA recordings, pursuing deeper meaning through pieces that range from the Celtic-inflections of Di Paolo's joyful "Taranta" to Dall'Ora's tranquil "Tra Due Oasi," which features Mirabassi's warm and woody tone blending in seamlessly with the strings. The presence of double-bass gives the string quartet added depth and more forward motion, while Mirabassi's role as soloist over the track combines a clear knowledge of the classical tradition with a more exploratory improvisational verve.

Cantini's "Elicoidale" is a buoyant piece that features a theme bringing the double-bass and violins together in unison before shifting into a middle section that gives the violins and viola and chance to trade off before returning to the effervescent theme. Corvino's "Non Fermarmi" begins with stark and spacious chords from Bollani, the strings gradually entering and ultimately propelling the piece until, again, Bollani is left solo, with the strings only slowly re-entering and again providing a propulsive backdrop for Bollani's more jazz-centric improvisation.

The centrepiece of the album, however, is the elegiac "Jaco," no doubt written by Corvino in dedication to the late bassist Jaco Pastorius. Beginning with a bass drone, Corvino vocalizes in a Middle Eastern fashion until the full string ensemble enters with a piece that is touching, melancholic and, at the same time, somehow uplifting. If music is meant to be an expression of pure emotion, "Jaco" succeeds in evoking conflicting feelings and, in its mixed approach of beauty and lack of resolution, is a fitting homage to a man who, in life, was certainly defined by contradiction and discord.

Closing with the plaintive "Terra Antica," the ensemble creates an almost ambient texture, with a simple and suggestive melody over a strong pedal tone, resembling perhaps how Harold Budd might sound if he were to write for strings, or some of Gavin Bryars' more hypnotic work.

Included on the disc is a bonus track with the string ensemble and Bollani tackling, oddly enough, Joe Zawinul's Weather Report hit "Birdland." An odd choice, but somehow fitting as an uplifting finale to an album that is filled with darker and more haunting emotions, it leaves the listener on a note of recovery from the more richly affecting pieces that came before.

Track Listing: I Treni Che Vorrei; Tra Due Oasi; ELicoidale; Non Fermarmi; Taranta; Jaco; Acquario; Terra Antica; Bonus Track - Birdland

Personnel: Carlo Cantini (violin), Valentino Corvino (violin, voice), Sandro Di Paolo (viola), Piero Salvatori (cello), Stefano Dall'Ora (double-bass)
With special guests: Stephano Bollani (piano), Gabriele Mirabassi (clarinet)

Record Label: Egea Records

Style: Fringes of Jazz


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