Fifty years ago, Italian jazz enthusiast Romolo Grande founded the New Emily Jazz Orchestra. It started out as a collection of rough-and-ready traditionalists, and as they developed, they matured, until they became the capable, slightly off-the-wall post bop crew featured on this recording. New Emily is grounded in hard bop, but these players have a wide reach that overlaps into classical repertoire, Ellington, and Jelly Roll Morton. They approach everything with enthusiasm and expertise, as well as, I suspect, some tongue-in-cheek subversiveness.
New Emily enters the music faced with an aesthetic conundrum, in which these Italians must reconcile the African-American cultural imperatives of jazz with their own very different European backgrounds. Their solution, appropriately, is to bring something of their own to the table. To begin with, the members of the quintet are fine musicians and capable improvisers with roots in an unpretentiously swinging brand of bop. The rhythm section cooks, generating a pleasant if not quite fiery drive. The saxophonists know their instruments and they know their changes, so they improvise capably if not distinctively.
The New Emily Jazz Orchestra gains its distinctiveness from its encyclopediaic approach to repertoire. The group saunters through Bach and Vivaldi, powers through the standards and bop heads, and takes a bumpy excursion through a Miles Davis '80s funk line. The arrangements are mostly by founding member Romolo Grande, who was the Orchestra's banjo player during its early days. But Grande evolved, ultimately playing electric bass in the modernist New Emily group heard here. Through tempo changes, key changes, counter-melodies, and elaborate, sometimes surprising written variations, Grande allowed his band to have a distinctive identity.
Irreverent humor is another aspect of that identity. Drummer Bruno Franchini takes an earnest, pleading vocal turn on "All The Things You Are," and I suspect that while he sang, his tongue was buried deep within his cheek. Overall, a light-hearted attitude suffuses the album, separating the music from generic hard bop and elevating New Emily's sound and approach from generic modernism.
Personnel: Mario Parisini: tenor & soprano saxes; Stefano Ponzinibio: alto sax; Paolo Panzani: piano; Marcello Franchini: electric bass; Bruno Franchini: drums, flute, vocals.