Italian Instabile Festival: Pisa Teatro Verdi, December 1997

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This sprawling 2-disc set contains a stunning abundance of great music. The 19-member orchestra includes a number of luminaries of the Italian jazz and free music scenes, most of them largely unsung Stateside: the mercurial and hypnotic Carlo Actis Dato (tenor and baritone saxophones, bass clarinet); the wily, grizzled veteran Enrico Rava (trumpet); Bruno Tommaso (double bass); Mario Schiano (soprano and alto saxophones, voice); and Gianluigi Trovesi (alto sax and alto, bass, and piccolo clarinets). The other fourteen members of the ensemble are up to the fast company: Luca Calabrese (trumpet); Daniele Cavallanti (tenor and baritone saxophones, ney, bendir); Eugenio Colombo (soprano and alto sax, flute, piccolo); Paolo Damiani (cello, double bass); Renato Geremia (soprano and alto saxophones, violin, flute, piano); Martin Mayes (French horn); Guido Mazzon (trumpet); Vincenzo Mazzone (drums); Pino Minafra (trumpet, fluegelhorn, bullhorn); Umberto Petrin (piano); Lauro Rossi (trombone); Giancarlo Schiaffini (trombone, tuba, baritone horn, live electronics); Tiziano Tononi (drums, gong, Udu drums, djembe, shakers, bells, whistles, maracas); and Sebi Tramontana (trombone, live electronics).

Whew. You may imagine that a group this large and versatile can generate a big sound, and these 19 virtuosi deliver in spades. On tracks like "Ballata" and "Sud" they play with considerable agility and feature a number of memorable solos. But perhaps the greatest aspect of the Italian Istabile Orchestra is that it is a whole made up of a sum of other wholes. It breaks into many constituent parts during the course of this live date, and each is as absorbing in its own way as the full ensemble. Take, for example, Eugenio "Rahsaan" Colombo, who earns the nickname by playing alto and soprano together on "Cadice," in marvelous harmony with himself, and with a fine swinging sensibility. Colombo is a revelation; he plays flute effectively on several other tracks, and proves himself to be definitely a name to be watched.

Also on hand is the Moers Brass Quintet: Schiaffini, Tramontana, Rossi, Mayes, and Colombo, delivering a chunk of uncompromising abstraction on "Und dann Schluss), achieving some forward motion behind Colombo's driving flute. Rava and Minafra spin a tremendous contrapuntal dialogue on "Free as a Bird," and Carlo Actis Dato is sensational as usual on "Laggiù la notte," on solo bass clarinet. Bassist Bruno Tommaso shines with his bow on the furiously abstract "To Be Continued," a feature for the Gruppo Romano Free Jazz, a trio with Schaino and Schiaffini. Guido Mazzon and Umberto Petrin combine for an all-too-brief "Impromptu," featuring Petrin's Monkish chording and haunting trumpet work from Guido.

But in fact the highlights are too many and various to name here. A feast, a banquet of improvised music of all sorts.

Record Label: Leo Records

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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