An alternative visual image of jazz from the classic view staged on the streets of Manhattan might be the scenes from The Talented Mr. Ripley, where jazz accompanies fast drives over rugged Mediterranean coastal terrain and the principal rooting around '50s LP sleeves in a city store. Italy has had a long love affair with jazz, the last thirty years seeing the emergence of a distinctive Italian jazz scene that, while honouring its American origins, has looked to native traditions to refresh the music.
Trumpeter Pino Minafra is one of the most colourful players on the Italian scene. Where Enrico Rava rarely strays too far from the American blueprint, Minafra draws his inspiration widely, from the '60s avant-garde to the sounds of 16th Century Italy. He was responsible for one of the great discs of the 1990s, Sudori, has played a leading role in the Italian Instabile Orchestra, and been a guiding light in the La Banda project that used a traditional town brass band in both operatic lollipops and challenging new jazz compositions.
Terronia is a much more composed album than Sudori. Minafra is geographically particular in his references, dedicating it to the south of Italy and "Souths everywhere"! Perhaps the only disappointment is that we get to hear so little of Minafra the player.
Canto General opens the disc with the sort of ragged ensemble that once graced the recordings of the Jazz Composers Orchestra. "Maccaroni begins as a tango before embarking on a wide musical journey through landscapes evoking Cuba, Mingus-era New York, and New Orleans. On the way strong, impassioned solos by Carlos Actis Dato (baritone) and Sandro Satta (alto) are followed by more relaxed statements by Livio Minafra (piano) and Lauro Rossi (trombone).
"A Mia Madre acts like an operatic intermezzo, Livio Minafra's synthesisers used to astonishing effect to provide a rich backdrop for Pino and the ensemble to enunciate a solemn theme. After a baroque keyboard introduction, "La Danza Del Grillio returns to Minafra's more exuberant side, its Ellingtonian feel enhanced by superb bass clarinet and alto from Dato and Satta, respectively, and the composer's famous megaphone vocalising.
The second half of the disc sees the forces of the Sud Ensemble expanded. "Mediterraneo adds four female singers, affecting a Renaissance choral pastiche before embarking on some extraordinary vocal gymnastics. The disc culminates in the massive twenty-minute title track, performed by Minafra, the singers, and the Meridiana Multijazz Orchestra. In many respects the most overtly Italian composition on the album, its themes resemble the music of 19th Century Italian opera, the central section at last giving the chance to hear the composer's heartfelt trumpet playing.
Terronia is not for listeners who demand extensive improvisation in their jazz. The sleeve notes openly declare that composition lies at its heart. It is, however, a superb illustration of one way in which jazz has been adapted to absorb very different traditions. Strongly recommended to lovers of orchestral jazz in general and Italian jazz in particular.
Personnel: Pino Minafra: trumpet, flugelhorn, voice; Sandro Satta: alto saxophone;
Carlo Actis Dato: tenor & baritone saxes, bass clarinet; Lauro Rossi: trombone; Livio
Minafra: piano, keyboards; Giovanni Maier: bass; Vincenzo Mazzone: drums, percussion;
Vittorino Curci: alto saxophone, voice;
Faraualla: female vocal quartet; Meridiana Multijazz Orchestra.