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15 Italian Jazz Musicians You Need To Know About

15 Italian Jazz Musicians You Need To Know About
Enrico Bettinello By

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It is not unusual for colleagues and promoters from across Europe and the United States to ask me: "Which Italian jazz musicians should I check out?"

For decades, Italy has enjoyed an increasingly prominent place in the vast landscape of European Jazz. The names of some of its most famous players, like trumpeters Enrico Rava or Paolo Fresu or pianist Enrico Pieranunzi, just to name few, are well known all around the world. But even younger artists such as Giovanni Guidi or Gianluca Petrella (who recorded their most recent album on ECM with the likes of Louis Sclavis and Gerald Cleaver) are nowadays fully recognized. The same applies to experienced masters like pianist Franco D'Andrea or intriguing improvisers like saxophonist Francesco Bearzatti.

In the last thirty years, the Italian jazz scene has expressed a rich tapestry of styles and approaches, from mainstream to experimental, from ethnic to electric. Many are the names of young (and not so young) musicians whose careers deserve wider recognition. A number of record labels including Auand, Caligola, CAM Jazz, El Gallo Rojo, Fonterossa, Parco della Musica are doing a superb job in documenting their artistic output.

Here, I present 15 artists who may not be household names outside of Italy, but are worthy of your attention (more information, including bios, discographies, and videos, can be found by clicking on the musician's name and browsing their profile). They all belong to a more recent generation of artists who are bringing a refreshing new perspective to the genre. As it always happens with listicles, the choices could have been broader and someone else would have probably selected different names here and there, but this article has the humble ambition to sketch an alluring path to encourage you to enter the world of new Italian jazz and start an exploration of its riches. You won't regret it!

Francesco Bigoni (saxophone, clarinet)

Currently living in Copenhagen (and very active on the Danish scene, including as a member of the ILK Collective), saxophonist Francesco Bigoni is one of the most talented improvisers of his generation. As member of collective El Gallo Rojo in Italy, he played in many bands alongside drummer Zeno De Rossi, bassist Giulio Corini, baritone saxophonist Beppe Scardino and many more and he is still active with Francesco Diodati's (for more on him, see below) Neko project. His main projects, like On Dog, link Danish and Italian musicians in a brilliant, colorful interplay.

Suggested listening:
  • Bigoni, Maniscalco, Solborg: S/T (ILK Music, 2015)
  • On Dog: On Dog Part I, Sloeblack (ILK Music, 2013)
Piero Bittolo Bon (saxophone, flute, clarinet)

Piero Bittolo Bon's distinctive sound on alto sax (but he plays clarinets and flute too, in a multi-instrumental approach to music) always strikes a chord in any listener. The music of this member of the creative El Gallo Rojo collective, is witty and sharp, provocative and well built, punchy and sweet, all at the same time, as in his Bread & Fox Quintet (with Filippo Vignato on trombone -for more on him, see below, Glauco Benedetti on tuba, Alfonso Santimone on piano and Andrea Grillini on drums) or in the happily jittery Jümp the Shark band.

Suggested listening: Silvia Bolognesi (double bass)

Silvia Bolognesi's deep doublebass sound is as contagious as her smile. Her projects naturally connect roots and avant-garde, a Mingus-like approach that allows her to collaborate with many inspiring partners in Italy as well as in Chicago. The trio Hear In Now sees Silvia's bass triangulate with "string sisters" cellist Tomeka Reid and violinist Mazz Swift, while the Almond Tree quartet triggers original interactions with trombone (the talented Tony Cattano) and vibes (Pasquale Mirra—for more on him, see below).

Suggested listening: Matteo Bortone (double bass)

Sought-after bassist Matteo Bortone is contributing to some of the most interesting projects and records of these years. He is part of singer Ada Montellanico's band, plays in the explosive sextet Manual for Errors led by guitarist Manlio Maresca and in the trio of young pianist Alessandro Lanzoni. In his quartet Travelers (with Antonin-Tri Hoang on alto sax, Francesco Diodati (for more on him -see below) on guitar and Ariel Tessier on drums), he explores the blurry area between contemporary jazz and indie rock. He also leads the ClarOscuro trio with brilliant Enrico Zanisi on piano and drummer Stefano Tamborrino.

Suggested listening:
  • Matteo Bortone Travelers: Time Images (Auand Records, 2015)
  • Alessandro Lanzoni Trio + Ralph Alessi: Seldom (CAM Jazz, 2014)
Paolo Botti (viola, banjo, various instruments)

Using both viola and banjo (as well as many other string instruments), Paolo Botti explores musical landscapes that span both the legacy of the heroes of the "New Thing" and folk and blues traditions. He is part of the marvelous Multikulti project by drummer Cristiano Calcagnile and has some projects of his own, like "La Fabbrica dei Botti," a septet which includes Zeno De Rossi, Dimitri Grechi Espinoza and Tony Cattano among others, or the amazing solo project dedicated to Albert Ayler, "Angels and Ghosts."

Suggested listening:
  • Paolo Botti: La fabbrica dei botti (Caligola, 2014)
  • Paolo Botti: Angels & Ghosts (Caligola, 2010)
Marco Colonna (clarinet, saxophone)

Clarinet and sax impro stalwart Marco Colonna explores sonic landscapes that connect folk music to avant-garde. Both in solo or in countless collaborations (duets, trios...) with some of the most challenging European improvisers, Colonna has recorded dozens of records, many of them self-produced. His unique approach to his horns, mindful of post-coltranian multi-reedist tradition, has been labeled "restlessly inventive" by Jazzwise critic Kevin Legedre and entails extended techniques in order to create original sounds.

Suggested listening: Francesco Diodati (guitar)

His ingenious and oblique approach to guitar playing fascinated Enrico Rava, who invited him to be part of his New Quartet a couple of years ago. More recently, he has launched a challenging collaborative trio with Austrian piano revelation Elias Stemeseder and saxophonist Dan Kinzelman. But Rome-based Francesco Diodati is an amazing leader too: check out his Neko Quartet or the exciting Yellow Squeeds band—with Enrico Zanisi on piano, Enrico Morello on drums, Glauco Benedetti on tuba and Francesco lento on trumpet—something in between post-rock and contemporary sonic architectures.

Suggested listening:
  • Francesco Diodati Yellow Squeeds: Flow, Home (Auand Records, 2015)
  • Francesco Diodati Neko: Need Something Strong (Auand Records, 2012)
Nicola Fazzini (saxophone)

Skilled saxophonist and composer Nicola Fazzini has been very active in the past years: along with bassist Alessandro Fedrigo he manages the nusica.org record label and curates concerts in the Veneto region for Jazz Area Metropolitana Network. Their music for the XY Quartet (with Saverio Tasca on vibes and Luca Colussi on drums) is both rational and sharp and it moves between post-urban NY jazz and contemporary music codes. Under the monicker Hyper+ Electroacoustic Trio (with Colussi), Fazzini and Fedrico share their sonic research with different guests as trumpet player Amir ElSaffar.

Suggested listening: Simone Graziano (piano)

Florence-based pianist Simone Graziano has a special feeling for contemporary sonic architectures. His quintet Frontal includes Stefano Tamborrino on drums, Gabriele Evangelista on bass, Dan Kinzelman (for more about him -see below) and David Binney on saxophones. Frontal's music is based upon a beautifully organized dialogue between written parts and freedom. He co-leads a project inspired by Jimi Hendrix's music, Purple Whales and his collaboration with drummer's Francesco Cusa "Skrunch" Trio will be out on Clean Feed Record next November.

Suggested listening:
  • Simone Graziano Frontal: Trentacinque (Auand Records, 2015)
  • Purple Whales: Inspired by Jimi Hendrix (Espresso, 2016)
Dan Kinzelman (saxophone, clarinet, electronics)

US-born but Italy-based (he lives in Umbria since 2005) saxophonist Dan Kinzelman is one of the most audacious artists of his generation. Longtime collaborator of Giovanni Guidi, Simone Graziano and many others, he co-leads the irreverent crossover trio Hobby Horse (with Stefano Tamborrino on drums and Joe Rehmer on bass) and his reeds and trumpet quartet Ghost. He also works with dancer and choreographer Daniele Ninarello.

Suggested listening: Pasquale Mirra (vibraphone)

Pasquale Mirra's sound on vibes can be incredibly dreamy and, often at the same time, funky. His long-time duet with drummer Hamid Drake proves how melody and rhythm can rise from the same musical gesture, but Mirra is sought after by colleagues of many styles from Rob Mazurek to Michel Portal. Among his projects, you should check out the magical duet with Gabriele Mitelli (for more about him -see above), his hypnotic solo suite or more afrofunk-flavored combos like Mop Mop and C'Mon Tigre.

Suggested listening:
  • Pasquale Mirra: Moderatamente Solo (Caligola, 2017)
  • C'Mon Tigre: C'Mon Tigre (Africantape, 2014)
Gabriele Mitelli (pocket trumpet, trumpet, various instruments)

Young trumpet player Gabriele Mitelli brings a doncherryesque quality to the projects he is involved in, but his expressiveness is undoubtedly a twenty-first century's one. His duet Groove& Move with vibe player Pasquale Mirra (for more on him -see below) and the more noise/psychedelic atmospheres of O.N.G. Crash Quartet with two guitars (recently featuring Ken Vandermark) are bands which have the potential to bring a whole new audience to the genre. He is part of the afore-mentioned marvelous Multikulti band and recently played in a new duo with British pianist Alexander Hawkins.

Suggested listening:
  • Gabriele Mitelli O.N.G. Crash: S/T (Parco della Musica, 2017)
  • Groove&Move (Gabriele Mitelli, Pasquale Mirra): Water Stress (Caligola, 2016)
Emanuele Parrini (violin)

Violin is not that common in jazz nowadays, but Emanuele Parrini brings a unique approach to the instrument. Fully aware of the most avant-gardish trajectories (Leroy Jenkins and Billy Bang are between his main references), Parrini has worked with Tony Scott and Anthony Braxton and is member of well-established Italian bands as Nexus, Dinamitri Jazz Folklore and Italian Instabile Orchestra. His project Viaggio al centro del violino ("Voyage to the Center of the Violin") is an astonishing exploration of his instrument's possibilities, from solo to sextet. The beautiful suite for quartet The Blessed Prince has toured Italy with Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet last winter.

Suggested listening:
  • Emanuele Parrini: The Blessed Prince (Long Song Records, 2016)
  • Emanuele Parrini: Viaggio al centro del violino -Volumes 1 & 2 (Rudi Records, 2013/4)
Fabrizio Puglisi (piano)

Although in his late forties, and well experienced (he spent 6 years in Holland and has played with artists like John Zorn, Steve Lacy and Butch Morris among others), pianist Fabrizio Puglisi still remains an unbelievably underrated master of European jazz. His latest avant-latin project Guantanamo is thrilling and psychedelic, but let's not forget the empathic Rope trio (with Stefano Senni on bass and Zeno De Rossi on drums) and his trip into Gnawa music with Fawda Trio.

Suggested listening: Filippo Vignato (trombone)

Trombone player and improviser Filippo Vignato topped the Rising Star category in the 2016 Top Jazz Poll conduted by the Italian jazz magazine "Musica Jazz." Due to a solid European musical education (he studied in Paris), his artistic vision embraces different areas of jazz and contemporary music. His electric and international trio with Yannick Lestra on Fender Rodhes and Attila Gyárfás on drums is an exciting blend of contemporary jazz, indie rock and free improvisation. His unique sound on trombone could be appreciated in the bands led by multi-instrumentalist Piero Bittolo Bon or bassist Rosa Brunello, as well as in the impro quintet Malkuth.
A new quartet featuring pianist Giovanni Guidi will be out next fall.

Suggested listening:
  • Filippo Vignato Trio: Plastic Breath (Auand Records, 2016)
  • Rosa Brunello Y Los Fermentos: Upright Tales (Cam Jazz, 2016)

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