Although barely known here in the States, Italian composer/arranger/pianist Roberto Magris has been making a name for himself in Europe with a number of rewarding enterprises, among which is his Europlane Orchestra, formed in 1998 to embrace musicians from throughout central Europe. On Current Views,
Magris's seventh recording for Soul Note Records, the sidemen hail from Italy, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Poland, Hungary, Switzerland, Austria, Croatia and the U.S (even though the lone American, vibraphonist Bill Molenhof, has lived in Germany for more than two decades). The album actually spans the years 2001-03, with five of the seven numbers recorded in concert that last year at Casa della Musica in Trieste. The album's title is somewhat misleading, as this isn't really an orchestra but a septet on six numbers, an octet on the seventh.
All save one of the compositions are by Magris. The lone exception is Jerome Kern/Cleophus Robinson's "In Love in Vain," arranged for the group by Magris. "The Story Teller," whose plaintive melody is based on an Italian folk song, raises the curtain, ushered in by Magris's piano and underscored by Philip Catherine's guitar and Marco Castelli's soprano sax. "Dukish Interlude," as the name suggests, is a salute to Ellington, with Molenhof in the spotlight and a dissonant temperament that leans more toward Mingus than the Duke. Magris solos again with alto saxophonist Krystof Bacso.
Tenor saxophonists Roberto Ottaviano and Christian Muenchinger introduce "In Love in Vain," on which Muenchinger solos smartly with Molenhof and Magris. "Hombres," whose Latin structure engirds Magris's vision of "Italian/Mex," has lively solos by Molenhof, bassist Vitold Rek, soprano saxophonist Ottaviano and drummer Gabriele Centis, while the robust, up-tempo "React!" is the leader's fond salute to a succession of American stars from the '70s including Billy Harper, George Adams, Don Pullen, Archie Shepp, Sam Rivers, Julius Hemphill, Dewey Redman and Pharoah Sanders.
"Steady Mood," a sensuous ballad with film noir undertones and earnest statements by Bacso, Muenchinger and Molenhof, precedes the animated finale, "For Naima," performed by the octet and dedicated not to John Coltrane's wife but to Magris's daughter. Magris moves to Fender Rhodes to support driving solos by alto Marko Lackner, trombonist Ferenc Schreck and guitarist Darko Jurkovic. A marvelous ending to a tasteful and impressive contemporary concert session.
The Story Teller; Dukish Interlude; In Love In Vain; Hombres; React!; Steady Mood; For Naima.
Roberto Magris: piano, Fender Rhodes(7); Ondrej Jurasi: trumpet; Julius Baros: trumpet; Kristof Bacso: alto saxophone; Rado Tariska: alto saxophone; Marko Lackner: alto saxophone; Roberto Ottaviano: soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone; Marco Castelli: soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone; Christian Muenchinger: tenor saxophone; Lojze Krajncan: trombone; Ferenc Schreck: trombone; Philip Catherine: guitar; Darko Jurkovic: guitar; Bill Molenhof: vibraphone; Vitolo Rek: bass; Frantisek Uhlir: bass; Gabriele Centis: drums.