Jazz seems to be on the upswing in Italy these days. Artists including pianist Enrico Pieranunzi and clarinetist Gabriele Mirabassi are becoming almost ubiquitous, even to jazz fans in North America. And, while labels like CAM Jazz and EGEA are working hard to promote music from their own country, they're also providing a place for artists including Canadian ex-pat trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and British pianist John Taylor. CAM Jazz, in fact, released last year's wonderful Wheeler/Taylor duet record, Where Do We Go From Here?
, while EGEA was responsible for the sublime '02 recording, Moon
, which teamed Wheeler and Taylor with Mirabassi.
Once again Taylor and Mirabassi are brought together for EGEA's latest release, New Old Age, this time with bassist Steve Swallow fleshing things out. The result is as graceful as one would expect from three artists who, in addition to being players with feet firmly planted in the lyrical, are memorably melodic composers.
Taylor is an artist who has only begun to receive his due in recent years. He continues to demonstrate the kind of harmonic depth and intuitive ability that have made him such a valuable addition to groups led by Jan Garbarek, Kenny Wheeler and Peter Erskine over the years. His gradual emergence as an artist of significance has been cemented by recent outings including the aforementioned CAM Jazz and EGEA releases, but also his two recordings for the sadly-defunct French Sketch label, '02's Overnight and'03's Insight. His strength as a composer of impressionistic bent is clearly evident on his three contributions here the title track and "Evans Above, which he revisits from his days with Erskine's trio but, with Mirabassi on board, are somewhat more outgoing; and Q2, a more abstract composition with a curiously elliptical theme.
Swallow, of course, has been a vital force for over 40 years, and two of his contributions to the set Arise, Her Eyes and "Hullo, Bolinas have entered the pantheon of standards, while his new contribution, the aptly-titled "Vaguely Asian, swings along in a relaxed fashion. While his electric bass is capable of providing the deep bottom end required to support the others, it's also, in some ways, a more flexible solo instrument than its acoustic cousin. In the upper registers Swallow sounds more like a guitarist, capable of providing unerring chordal accompaniment.
Mirabassi is something of an EGEA staple, having appeared on nearly a dozen releases. Not surprisingly, his contributions including "Novalis, a duet that highlights Swallow's rich harmonic abilities, and the nine-minute closer, "Hotel Danubio, which is reminiscent of Jaco Pastorius' "Three Views of a Secret bring a certain Mediterranean air to the set, which is well in keeping with EGEA's philosophy of exploring the Mediterranean identity. Lithe, supple and imaginative, he's inarguably one of the best clarinetists on the scene today.
New Old Age is an accessible set of chamber jazz that will appeal to fans of any of the artists involved; but its true strength lies in the elegance of their interactions.
Personnel: John Taylor (piano), Steve Swallow (bass), Gabriele Mirabassi (clarinet)