Is Italian clarinetist Gabriele Mirabassi's Canto Di Ebano jazz? Traditionalists would probably say no, for the album owes little to the American jazz tradition, and even less to the African-American strand within it. But will jazz fans enjoy it? Yes, certainly, many of them, for the music is rich in rhythmic vitality, spontaneity, lyricism and improvisation, all essential ingredients in most people's definition of jazz.
Mirabassi undoubtedly considers himself a jazz musician, at least in part, and formed his first jazz quartet shortly after completing conservatory studies in the late 1980s. Since then he's been associated with a school of Italian and French musiciansincluding pianists Stefano Battaglia and Enrico Pieranunzi, accordionists Richard Galliano and Luciano Biondini, and tuba player Michel Godardwho to a greater or lesser extent are each concerned with reshaping jazz with infusions of their own cultural heritage. He's also collaborated with the Brazilian guitarist Guinga (a master of samba's instrumental cousin, choro) and the Lebanese oud player Rabih Abou-Khalil.
All these influences and experiences have gone into creating Canto Di Ebanoin addition to classical and contemporary classical stylings, mixed in with injections of folk and popular music from Italy and elsewhere around the Mediterranean. On this recording, Mirabassi is joined by three fellow virtuosos: acoustic guitarist Peo Alfonsi (in whose playing the work of Brazilian composers Heitor Villa-Lobos and Luiz Bonfa resonates powerfully), double bassist Salvatore Maiore, and drummer and percussionist Alfred Kramer.
Maiore and Kramer create wild and propulsive rhythmic backdropswhich only rarely (as on "Ve Se Gostas") employ the trademark rhythms or unique swing of American jazzover which Mirabassi solos with soaring melodicism. In jazz legacy terms, he sounds somewhere between a revved up Jimmy Giuffre and a re-Europeanized Buddy DeFranco.
Most of the ten tracks are Mirabassi originals and last less than five minutes, with a theme followed by a clarinet solo (or occasionally a turn by the guitar or bass), and then a reprise of the theme. Most of the numbers are brisk and effervescent, with occasional melancholy interludes (as represented by the prettily plaintive "Eu Quero E Sossego" and the title cut).
The cumulative effect is perhaps a little homogenous, but the energy and lyricism of Mirabassi's workas a composer and improviseroutweighs that consideration, and at just under 44 minutes, Canto Di Ebano doesn't overstay its welcome.
Personnel: Gabriele Mirabassi: clarinet; Peo Alfonsi: acoustic guitar; Salvatore Maiore: double bass; Alfred Kramer: drums and percussion.