Day 9 - Festival International de Jazz de Montreal, July 6, 2006
The biggest problem with Montreal's jazz festival is that there are simply too many choices available, and day nine was no less challenging than the rest. The Suono Italia series continued with two shows; the ticketed shows included (among others) bassist and Effendi Records founder Frederic Alarie, bassist Joelle Leandre's trio, the German group Quadro Nuevo and guitar legend Pat Martino's Quartet. Then there were the free shows, including drummer Stephane Huchard and the team of Peppino D'Agostino and Stef Burnswhose Bayshore Road (Favored Nations, 2005) was a charming blend of acoustic and electric guitars. What to do, what to do?
Ensemble Misto's 7 pm performance as part of the Suono Italia series continued to highlight the vibrant Italian music scene, performing original music by Enrico Blatti from I Colori del Mare (EGEA, 2005). The quintet was an unusual blend of instrumentssaxophone (Pietro Tonolo), violin (Alberto Martinelli), harp (Elena Trovato), accordion (Stefano Pietrodarchi) and bass (Raffaello Pareti).
Pareti, who was part of the Stefano Cantini & Rita Marcotulli group the previous evening, may not be a particularly attention-drawing player, but his understated approach always kept the music on trackwhich was no small achievement, considering the complexity of Blatti's writing. As is the case with so many releases by the Italian EGEA label, whose artists are being featured throughout the Suono Italia series, Blatti's music can be deceptive. While it's extremely accessible, that doesn't mean there isn't a lot going on under the hood. Many of the compositions featurie shifting bar lines, complex harmonic changes and arrangements that demand that everyone in the group be prepared to shift roles on a moment's notice. There are traces of Nina Rota and even a more pared-down Ennio Morricone here. If there was one word to describe Ensemble Misto's performance, it's "cinematic."
Throughout the performance, the members of the quintet were afforded solos within the context of Blatti's detailed scoresin particular Tonolo, Pietrodarchi and Martinelli, who performed during the first half of the group's short hour-long set. When EGEA's Enzo Vizzone spoke after the show, he explained that the label is placing increasing emphasis on highlighting the composer as much as the performer. And if last night's performance was any indication, it's a smart one. EGEA attracts consistently excellent playersespecially soloists who can integrate their cultural background with the improvisational nature of jazz. But by placing them in context of highly listenable but often deeply profound music, the label has found a way to create music of depth that has broad appeal.
Given the variety of textures and outstanding playing across the board, special note needs to be made of Tonolo, whose command of tenor and soprano saxophones, like Stefano Cantini's the night before, revealed a broader reach than even Blatti's music suggested. Likewise, Pietrodarchi was outstanding, both as the primary rhythm section partner for Pareti and on the rare occasions where he was afforded solo space. He was a visibly animated player, often seen with a beaming grin on his face as he counted his way through Blatti's bouyant but challenging charts. Like the French Pascal Contet, Pietrodarchi uses a button accordion, and the close voicings he often played with his right hand almost looked like the work of a contortionist.
Halfway through the set Martinelli left the stage, to be replaced by an unannounced guest, clarinetist Gabriele Mirabassi. The swap of violin for clarinet changed the complexion of the ensemble; Mirabassi's instrument worked with Tonolo's soprano to create a beautiful and organically integrated texture. Mirabassi's approach to the clarinet the previous night during his duets with Brazilian guitarist/composer Guinga was intensely passionateand he seems to approach every musical opportunity that way, even with Blatti's more structured writing. As on the previous night, he couldn't remain seated, rising up out of his chair, bobbing and weaving, and clearly deep inside the music.