What become more and more apparent in investigating the broad catalogue of the Italian EGEA label is exactly how vibrant the Italian jazz scene is. While listeners abroad may be familiar with prominent names like Rava and Fresu, there are many more talented artists, including the four found on Il Circo
. Bassist Raffaello Pareti nominally leads the session and contributes most of the music, but this is clearly a collaborative effort.
Guitarist Bebo Ferra, recently reviewed for his elegant Oregon-esque Mari Pintau , shows that he is far more individual than being simply a good Ralph Towner clone. There is a transparency to the way he plays; he demonstrates an almost frighteningly broad harmonic knowledge, yet manages to embed it in a style that consistently sings a song and tells a story. Saxophonist Stefano Cantini is lyrical without being obvious, another player whose solos become more than merely a collection of notes—he is another fine storyteller. Accordionist Antonello Salis, like Dino Saluzzi and Richard Galliano, manages to retain the ethnicity of the instrument while adapting it to surprisingly sophisticated bop-informed melodies. And Pareti manages to keep a strong rhythmic emphasis, with a strength that completely eliminates the need for any form of percussion.
Together the group takes on Pareti’s compositions, making them feel more like a connected suite than a collection of songs. As Paolo Fresu, who writes the liner notes, describes, the pieces are almost formed like an opera, with the opening title track setting the stage and the jaunty finale, “Marameo,” closing things on a light-hearted note. In between there are moments of joy, as in the bossa-flavoured “Dona Flor,” coupled with periods of melancholy, as in “Al Ciel a Voi Anime Gentili.” Throughout the album musicians approach the material with a certain abandon. The up-tempo, tango-informed “Orazi e Carpazi” provides a spotlight on Cantini’s barely-controlled soprano work; Salis manages to scat along at an incredibly brisk pace with his accordion solo. And Raffaello plays with a deeply resonant tone that coincides perfectly with Percy Heath’s description of feeling the bass in your feet.
Il Circo is another fine record from EGEA that takes the extemporization of jazz and gives it a uniquely Mediterranean bent. Luxuriously recorded, brightly composed and played with the right combination of thoughtfulness and enthusiasm, it proves that there is a rich music scene in Italy that demands to be heard.
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Personnel: Stefano Cantini (saxophones), Antonello Salis (accordion, voice), Bebo Ferra (guitar), Raffaello Pareti (double-bass)