The music on Mari Pintau is what one might imagine had the members of Oregon grown up along the Mediterranean instead of points across the United States. And the link really isn’t that far-fetched; guitarist Bebo Ferra, whose date this is, and double-bassist Paolino dalla Porta both played with Paul McCandless on last year’s EGEA release, Isole , demonstrating the same ability to blend ethnic folk music with the jazz tradition, creating something inherently beautiful and fresh; the only difference being the ethnicity is Italian instead of American. Still, Ferra’s advanced rhythmic and harmonic sensibilities, somehow masked by a style that is refreshing in its deceptive simplicity, relate very easily to the kind of music that Ralph Towner has written over the years.
That Towner has focused more on the classical guitar in recent years is another junction where he and Ferra meet. Ferra’s material is equally elegant, running from tender and romantic to dark and brooding. Where Ferra differentiates himself is his almost exclusive penchant for the lyrical; there are few rough edges or oblique angles to be found in his writing. He avoids the large intervallic leaps that so characterize Towner’s playing, instead opting for more linear and transparent melodies.
The combination of acoustic guitar, reeds, double-bass and drums/percussion that Ferra chooses also begs comparison to Oregon. But Javier Girotto’s use of the baritone saxophone in this context lends a richer texture that McCandless’ disposition towards higher-register reeds never quite achieves. Think John Surman instead of McCandless and you’re partway there.
There is nothing free to be found in this music, either, although it is clearly liberated from convention. Ferra may create poignant melodies but just as easily places them over irregular metered rhythms that ultimately feel completely natural. This is the kind of music that might on a superficial listen be written off as beautiful but simplistic; still, as light as the mood is, there is nothing unsubstantial or insignificant about either the compositions or the performances. Percussionist Roberto Dani manages to create a rhythmic pulse with the most subtle of colourations.
Ferra and his group have crafted an album that is deeply moving without surrendering to overt melodrama or syrupy sentimentality; the emotions found within are real , which means they lack the high drama that often passes for deep feeling. As gentle as a wave, as warm as a sea breeze, Mari Pintau manages to go straight for the heart in a direct and completely unassuming way.