Bergamo’s Jazz Festival celebrated its 25th edition, a remarkable achievement, with a program that showcased the lights and shadows of today’s music. Giovanni Mazzarino, winner as Best New Talent of the Top Jazz Poll organized by the Italian monthly, led his Italian quintet with trumpet player Fabrizio Bosso, former winner of the same title, and powerful tenorist Francesco Bearzatti. He gave plenty of space to his soloists, and in his playing proved himself an interesting improvisor, combining open harmonies with a supple swing and a clear touch. In the same evening tenor and soprano saxophonist Claudio Fasoli, founder of the seminal Italian jazz-rock group Perigeo, played a series of originals with his Euroquintet featuring Amrican-born but Paris-resident trombonist Glen Ferris, a world-class musician. Carried by the energetic bass of Piero Leveratto, the group went through a series of spacious, atmospheric pieces with plenty of improvised interaction.
Franco Ambrosetti is a Swiss trumpet player whose brand of melodic mainstream has been very popular throughout Europe, and his quintet played a pleasant set including finely chiseled originals by Bergamo pianist Claudio Angeleri inspired by the “Invisible Cities” novel by Italian author Italo Calvino, while in the tenorist Gianni Basso’s sextet the leader and trombonist Dino Piana, father figures of modern Italian jazz, meaningfully a new generation came in the forefront: experienced drummer Stefano Bagnoli, pianist Andrea Pozza with his sparse but effective style, and Franco Piana, a fluegelhorn player with a dark sound and a brooding style suited to ballads like “God Bless The Child” and “You Don’t Know What Love Is”.
Anthony Braxton’s Standards 2003 Quartet played a “mainstream” repertoire, including "Nancy with the laughing face" and a masterful "Afroblue", in a distinctly non-mainstream style. The Chicagoan applied to the well-known themes the logic of his solo pieces, that he started to develop at the end of the 60’s, transforming them into extended improvisations using alto, soprano and sopranino saxophones. The quartet performed brilliantly the arrangements, and the featured soloist was extraordinary guitarist Kevin O’Neill: not a gimmick in sight, his cutting tone and breakneck phrasing were an exciting blend of Jim Hall and Sonny Sharrock. Percussionist and composer Kevin Norton apparently enjoyed playing the restrained accompanist à la Joe Morello, here and there opening the texture with sudden bursts of free time comments. Andy Eulau on bass, an experienced musician of the New York area, locked brilliantly with Norton creating the all-important basic groove, and soloed briefly with impeccable musicianship. The evening was closed by a duo of McCoy Tyner and Al Foster. The idea implied a dialogue between the two, but Tyner left precious little space for the drummer, conceiving the concert as an endless solo with drums accompaniment. To see these masters perform on stage is always an emotion, but it seemed a lost occasion to further develop their respective artistries.
Saxophonist Tino Tracanna is yet another local talent, and he’s well known all over Europe as a member of Paolo Fresu’s Quintet in these last 20 years. The set of his quintet was a welcome occasion to enjoy again the quality of his compositions, ranging from the complexities of "Burro Cacao", true improvisational steeplechase, to the apparent simplicity of the lovely lullaby "Eterninna". The quintet featured trombonist Martin Dietrich Wehner, contributing an almost New Orleans color to the collective improvisations, and drummer Francesco Petreni, inspired in continuously varying the accompaniment and in the solos well-suited to the spirits of the tunes. French accordeon virtuoso Richard Galliano gathered a strings and piano group to perform new arrangements of the compositions by Astor Piazzolla. They combined the sharpness of classic musicians with the heat of jazzmen; the leader confirmed his extraordinary technique and deep knowledge of Piazzolla’s music, giving an involving performance very much appreciated by the audience.
The twin trumpets tribute to Miles by the group co-led by Enrico Rava and Paolo Fresu, the two top trumpet players in the country, received a well deserved ovation by the audience that filled the beautifully Donizetti Theatre. Their readings of themes written or performed by Davis isn’t an imitation, but an heart-felt personal creation, true to the original just because it’s different every night, fully acknowledging the European musical roots of the performers. An all-Italian rhythm section, with pianist Stefano Bollani, bassist Enzo Pietropaoli, and drummer Roberto Gatto – all successful group leaders in their own right – went way beyond mere support, lending musical substance to the set, and promptly following the inspiration of the moment. A “Bye Bye Blackbird” transformed into a brooding, ominous theme was among the highlights of the evening. French guitarist Christian Escoudé tried to arrange for Big Band Django Reinhardt’s compositions, but the huge group didn’t do justice to the quicksilver quality of the themes, while the soloists did demonstrate technical prowess without managing to get into an intimate relationship with the tunes. The best moments all considered came from the rhythm section, led by excellent pianist Alain Jean-Marie, and from the solos of the leader himself. Smaller halls of the theatre hosted in the weekend’s morning a poetry reading by Vittorio Franchini, accompanied by pianist Renato Sellani, with texts dedicated to the personal and musical life of Chet Baker, who spent long periods of his life in Italy, while Gianluigi Trovesi (yet another musician sprung out from the fertile local talent pool) and Umberto Petrin alternated with a classic trio (voice, cello and piano) in a performance of songs by Afredo Piatti, a Bergamo composer of the 19th Century whose themes, forerunners of the song form, lent themselves very well to a jazz rendition.