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Live Reviews

Umbria Jazz Winter in Orvieto 2006-2007

By Published: February 7, 2007

When the concert began, it soon became obvious that, with the use of overdubbed material accompanying the visuals, much of the creativity came from what was prerecorded, and not from the piano-bass duo onstage. The program of originals was book-ended by Tristano originals "Descent Into the Maelstrom" and "Lennie's Pennie's," with one other Tristano composition ("Requiem") inserted towards the middle. The opening portion preceding "Descent Into the Maelstrom" wound up being an extra-curricular, unrelated exercise to what followed, though the alternating images of Tristano and Edgar Allan Poe proved the artists had done some homework.

"Descent Into the Maelstrom" was a 1953 recorded piano solo by Tristano, which is a remarkable sound structure based on Poe's story and evidently one of his poems. Though it is fairly devoid of melody or thematic material, odd for jazz particularly at the time (given, Tristano was one of free jazz' pioneers and one of jazz' first modernist classical-influenced composers and players), it is based on a tonal center and fixed meter. For such swinging music throughout the suite that was either Tristano or Tristano-related, it was amazing how little movement came from Iacoucci's feet! That said, Iacoucci is exacting in his Tristano influence, which can only be a good thing since there is such a limited number of pianists today who openly claim Tristano in any manner of influence, amongst them two Americans: Tristano's famed student Sal Mosca and Mosca's one-time student Billy Lester.

Speaking of which, of the Americans invited, a fine sampling of talent was on hand this year. Veteran trumpeter Lew Soloff gathered together a rather unique quartet with Billy Hart (drums), Joe Locke (vibes), and Francois Moutin (bass). Though the members had for the most part been associated with one another in various other projects, this was a first-time gathering. Soloff had run into Locke in the Rochester airport a couple of years ago, and they expressed interest in playing together; the trumpeter had heard and sat in with Moutin when he played with Mike Stern at the 55Bar in New York and was, as he said, "knocked out with him." The three (Soloff, Locke, and Moutin) then played at a venue in the Meat Packing District in Manhattan with Soloff's good friend Jeff "Tain" Watts, and thus formed the initial configuration and personnel of a quartet that would perform at Ronnie Scott's in London. Umbria Artistic Director Carlo Pagnotta was in the audience on two occasions, liked what he heard and, subsequently, invited Soloff to bring the group to Orvieto (Hart, a longtime associate of Soloff's, filling the drum chair).

Of the group's fairly new repertoire that would mature throughout the week—much written specifically for debuting this tour—Moutin's "MRC" (Minor Rhythm Changes) and Soloff's "Istanbul" stuck out as vehicles that accentuated the band's up-tempo strengths, particularly because they featured Hart's prowess behind the kit, making his influence felt on the ensemble. Creating various complex and dynamic rhythmic multi-textural patterns under, around, and over his bandmates, the drummer pounded his kit at times with both sticks in one hand and, in essence, "soloed" throughout each piece, raising the level of interplay and interlocking particularly with the similarly rhythmic forces of Locke's vibes (somewhat in early experimental Dave Pike mode circa MPS-era) and Moutin's big toned, creative pizzicato playing on upright bass.

Soloff in awe and/or with pride stood to the side while creative musical tension mounted (in his own words, Soloff joked, "I make sure I don't have to play because I always make sure to have the greatest musicians I possibly can around me"). When the momentum summoned him to join in, he soared over the musical rumblings. Much of the remainder of the original material composed by the members of this group for this occasion unfortunately didn't reach such heights, as it was the energetic—not balladic pieces—performed that suited this group's strengths and potential.

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