On first listening to Storie di fiume(River Tales), Simone Guiducci's Gramelot Ensemble's fourth recording, one wonders whether this is folk music colored by jazz, or jazz music influenced by folk. But like the confluence of two rivers there comes a point where it is impossible to distinguish the two separate entitiesthe absorption is complete and mutual.
On the opening track, "Uomini di fiume," the accordion of Fausto Beccalossi and the clarinet of Achille Succi blend as one, carrying the sweet melody over Guiducci's gently strumming guitar and Roberto Dani's subtle and highly atmospheric percussion work. The ensemble playing fades and Guiducci's guitar emerges to give a tasteful solo. Then, accordion in turn is left to its own devices, accompanied by Salvatore Maiore on bass and the brushes of Dani. Scatting vocals mimic the voice of the accordion, and as the song gathers momentum with the ensemble together again, it recalls vocalist Pedro Aznar-era Metheny, only earthier. It is a stunning opener.
Having defined the melody from the start, a flamenco-ish sounding guitar veers the ensemble into looser, freer territory on "La Leggenda della Vecia Sproc." Guiducci's solo proves what a fine guitarist he isno excess, no pointless pyrotechnics; every note is telling. Succi picks up the narrative on clarinet in uninhibited style, the ensemble reconnect with the opening melody and a song which began as softly as spring rain ends with a one-chord, screaming, collective exclamation.
Things quieten down a notch on the lovely, reflective "Prima della Pioggia"Succi's clarinet the primary voice on a song which perfectly illustrates the ensemble's philosophy of emotion over technicality. On "Confluenze," a beautifully spare bass underpins the bass clarinet and accordion solos, but once again the melody eases its way through as though restoring things to their rightful place.
The emphasis throughout the album is on melody and harmony, no more so than on the final track, "Invocazione." Beccalossi and Succi drop out to allow Guiducci the spotlight and his melodic solo is as gentle and graceful as a feather dancing on the wind. Guiducci's style is his own, occupying a space somewhere between John McLaughlin and Antonio Forcione.
This highly talented quintet strikes a perfect balance between improvisation and form on Storie di Fiume. Within this framework melody is paramount, and like the cyclical journey of a river, these fine songs too inevitably come around full circle to the initial melody. Also notable is the space in which the quintet allows each other to breathe. When five musicians are so attuned to the needs of the music, ego goes out the window and one is left with effortlessly beautiful music.
Personnel: Simone Guiducci: guitar; Fausto Beccalossi: accordion; Achille Succi: clarinets; Salvatore Maiore: bass; Roberto Dani: drums and percussion.