Quadro Nuevo: Canzone Della Strada (2004)
Real Italian pizza bears little resemblance to the topping-drenched artery blockers at Domino's. Diners get their own pie with a sparse collection of much fresher toppings, and the main condiment is usually olive oil instead of little red pepper flakes.
One isn't necessarily better or healthier than the other. Just be willing to admit a preference for the real thing or a modified version adjusted for the American palate.
So it goes with Canzone Della Strada, an album of traditional Italian songs by Quadro Nuevo. This is bona-fide old school stuff likely to satisfy those old enough to cherish the memories it fuels and open-minded young listeners new to such tunes, but those looking for jazz with an Italian accent might fulfill their appetites elsewhere.
The European quartet travels Italy frequently, absorbing the nuances of various streets and small villages they perform in. There's a fresh and diverse feeling to these thirteen songs despite the adherence to tradition, plus plenty of instrumental craft and interaction. Indeed, the group does more with each three- or four-minute song than most mainstream performers obsessed with keeping things short so they'll get more radio airplay.
Still, this is an album where the whole outshines the individual playersthere are few wasted efforts, but also few that come across as daring or unique.
A swinging bass vamp by D.D. Lowka and tasty sampling of clarinet by Mulo Francel bookends the opening and close of "Tarantella," but guitarist Robert Wolf and accordion player Andreas Hinterseher somehow manage to have their say while making time for a somber change-of-pace chamber solo by guest violinist Daniel Nodel. It's good stuff likely to go right past the ears of diners focusing on spaghetti dinners, as will many other performances (Europeans aren't exactly into that whole multi-tasking thing).
The title track is a lively foot-stomping Mediterranean group canvas that could fit nicely into the plate-breaking madness at any Greek eatery, at least until Francel interrupts with a Latin-accented sax solo and Lowka recruits everyone for support during a furious bit of hand drumming. Slow and thoughtful comes on "Valzer Dottore," with Wolf's guitar and Francel's clarinet building strong melodic moments off Lowka's simple bass foundation. Elsewhere there's infusions of tango, romantic waltzes and whimseythe latter occurring on a vaguely swingish song that as best I can translate works out to "You'd do better to keep quiet, American."
This is more polished and civilized music than one will likely encounter in the streets, and some may miss the crooning of those who sung these classics. But it holds up as well as any decent revisitation of, say, Billie Holliday or Charlie Parker. It's a case of simple and less adventurous proving its potential, like a chef whose best pasta eschews gran ragu and other complex sauces in favor of tomatoes, olive oil and a delicate touch of the right seasonings.
Track Listing: Roma Nun Fa La Stupida Stasera; Tu Vuo' Fa' L'americano; La Luna Si Veste D'argento; Chitarra Romana; Serenata Celeste; Canzone Della Strada; Valzer Dottore; Tango Del Mare; Firenze Sogna; Arrivederci Roma; Tarantella; Per Il Mio Amore; Arrivederci
Personnel: Mulo Francel, saxophones and clarinets; Robert Wolf, guitar; D.D. Lowka, acoustic bass and percussion; Andreas Hinterseher, accordion; Heinz-Ludger Jeromin, accordion; Francesco Buzzurro, mandoline; Bruno Renzi, piano and vocals; Daniel Nodel, violin; Andrea Karpinski, violin; Michaela Buchholz, viola; Hanno Simons, violincello