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Bergamo Jazz 2016

Bergamo Jazz 2016
Francesco Martinelli By

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Jazz invaded Bergamo with a joyous celebration of the music’s diversity. —Francesco Martinelli
For the first time under the artistic direction of trumpeter Dave Douglas, the 38th edition of the Bergamo Jazz Festival—one of Europe's longest running jazz events—invaded the ancient and noble city in the North of Italy with a joyous celebration of the music's diversity.

The beautifully restored Teatro Sociale in the Città Alta—Bergamo's ancient city center is atop a steep hill—saw for the opening night the concert of pianist Franco DAndrea's Traditions Today band, with Daniele D'Agaro on clarinet and Mauro Ottolini on trombone, with special guest Han Bennink on snare drum and any other drummable surface. Fighting with the torrential Bennink is never easy, and D'Andrea's pianism is always reserved; he seemed not to be especially well served by the instrument or the PA, so he was often difficult to hear among the enthusiastic band. His reformulations of classic jazz tunes—D'Andrea began on soprano saxophone in Dixieland bands and played double bass for a living before returning to the piano—were always concise and enlightening, and Ottolini demonstrated his mastery of the mutes. The second half of the evening was dedicated to the young and brilliant trombonist Ryan Keberle's band, Catharsis, with singer Camila Meza and Mike Rodriguez on trumpet. Blending the voice with two brasses in a front line is not an easy task and I suspect that Camila had too much voice in her monitor, so sometimes the overall sound was not well balanced. The band at the beginning seemed eager to do too much, but slowly they settled and the concert steadily grew. A song in Spanish gave solidity and truth to the voice, and the wonderful encore—a destructured version of Ivan Lins' "Madalena"—was the climax of the concert. A young band full of talent and promise, and a repertoire that could benefit from a better balance between original material and classic songs worth rediscovering.

The two tenor saxophones of Tino Tracanna and Massimiliano Milesi, one a well-established figure on the Italian scene and the other a not yet very well-known musician with a definite personality of his own, share an interest for the sonic qualities of antique tenor saxophones, and performed acoustically in the setting of a modern art gallery, surrounded by inspired paintings and sculptures. The concert was yet another reminder that listening to unamplified instruments in congenial settings is such a crucial part of understanding what music is about. The subtle play of pitches, timbres, dynamics and harmonics, the two voices blending or separating in a program that included free improvisations as well as Monk and Bach, were fascinating. They both live in Bergamo where there's definitely no shortage of excellent reed players!

The evenings in the Teatro Donizetti—one of Italy's most beautiful opera halls—were opened by Geri Allen's piano solo dedicated to the soul music repertoire of Motown. The audience was mesmerized by Mrs. Allen's charisma and the beautiful sounds she elicited from the piano, but at times the material seemed too thin to support a continuous flow of ideas, so she seemed to evocate the spirits of Duke, Monk and Jobim to help the proceeding. A well-deserved ovation from the capacity audience saluted the performance. Joe Lovano followed with his "classic" quartet dedicated to the music he grew up with. The masterful saxophonist, whose band co-led with Scofield was extremely well received, played mostly original material but when artistic director Douglas joined in for a couple of tunes the atmosphere instantly reverted to the Soundprints sound, their joined dedication to Wayne Shorter. Lovano cares a lot for his Italian roots, and will return soon for a celebration in his family's hometown in Sicily. We had a sympatico conversation over breakfast and he told wonderful stories of learning by his father and musical family: his empathy with the audience was very strong.

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