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Deep Down and Dirty with Sorrento Jazz

By Published: August 12, 2012
Exquisite tunes, airs, trifles and playful mixes come in waves and drown one second and lift the next, allowing the enchanted listener to breathe again. Several times, breath is held as the clarinetist lets rip with savage emotive and difficult solos, played as if he was angry with all mankind and then, in a heartbeat makes his instrument sing so sweetly and quietly, you feel it is whispering a tune in your ear, for you alone. The band senses his every change and reduces or increases its volume and beat accordingly.

A small donation and a request just might be granted. I asked for "Summertime" like Albert Ayler
Albert Ayler
Albert Ayler
1936 - 1970
sax, tenor
(partly to test, partly because I adore it), and just as I thought they had not understood and had begun to walk away, I was stopped in my tracks by the first notes and was treated to version of Gershwin's tune, played in Ayler's style but at a million miles an hour, so it was over in three unbelievably sweet minutes rather than the eight minutes the saxophonist's original. The players, particularly the clarinetist, had little idea of just how good they were and yet seemed to know the effect they had on their audience. The hat goes round again and they move on.

I assumed they played only on a Saturday night but, two nights later, in town late again, I heard a clarinet, played high and fast—and I knew. I followed the sound and found them again. This time I got into conversation—even though we speak very little of each other's language, a picture, permission to use it in articles and an invitation to join them the next night (they asked what I played and were delighted I sang; I did not admit it was some time ago) and meet them in their base of The English Inn in Sorrento high street, where the landlord keeps their cards and instrument cases safe. I was told to go there, get their card for contact and find them nearby (an appointment I was unable to keep due to other events) and we parted as friends. They say music is the food of life and Sorrento is truly blessed. I went to a show, opera and comedy included, cool jazz, mellow cocktail jazz on the terraces of the rich, listened to guitar and mandolins played wonderfully in restaurants (and learned from the musicians that "Come Back To Sorrento" is not a love song, as many think, but a political song, written to get a mayor from the north, who visited and promised to invest in Sorrento, to return and make good on his promise) and it all felt good; not brilliant, but good and rich nonetheless.

Then my soul was awakened in the streets where I really experienced jazz at its mean, raw, base, hot and sweaty best—dirty, perhaps, but in every way, totally free, unfettered and far superior to anything I heard elsewhere for a long time. This is where the heart and soul reside in Italy; it is music of the people. If this is the music of life, I say, play on and on and on...

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