The history of jazz has always favored the partnership of strong personalities, especially those of guitar and tenor saxophone collaborations. Memorable pairings have included: Jim Hall
and Sonny Rollins
, Bill Frisell
and Joe Lovano
, and Kurt Rosenwinkel
and Mark Turner
. Add to that list two Italian artists, guitarist Francesco Diodati and saxophonist Francesco Bigoni.
They make up half of Diodati's band NEKO, along with bassist Francesco Ponticelli and drummer Ermanno Baron. The quartet's debut, Purple Bra, highlights the saxophonist and guitarist's resonant playing, plus Diodati's writing, the leader having penned all but one of its nine tracks.
While steeped in jazz, NEKO doesn't shy away from the pervasive vernacular of rock, a global language understood beyond jazz. The title track exemplifies this direction, with Bigoni carrying the melody as Diodati drops thunderous guitar licks over aggressive beats. That is, until the persistence of the melody quiets the band, directing the players into a restrained and oh so hip swing. Diodati swaps thunder for tweaking guitar effects.
The band certainly can get loud, but noise is used sparingly. Mostly NEKO mines the interplay between groove and tension. The group can play lightning fast bebop ("Krashing Minds") or resigned ballads ("Joy Plant"), all the while with Diodati accenting the affair with interesting guitar effects that never distract from the music. Bigoni is best compared to Joe Lovano or Mark Turner, in that he seems never to play something that is ugly or vexed. On the beautiful and lightly melancholic "Neko" he soars, and on the duet "Hit," with acoustic guitar, his splintery solo is nearly heart-breaking.
The disc ends with a meditation on Jeff Buckley's pop song "So Real," starting off as loose threads of effects and tones and then coalescing into a beautifully stark folk song. The musicians successfully tip-toe the line between genres, making Purple Bra a most personal statement.
Personnel: Francesco Bigoni: tenor saxophone; Francesco Diodati: guitar; Francesco
Ponticelli: double bass; Ermanno Baron: drums.