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Simone Guiducci Gramelot Ensemble: Dancin' Roots

John Kelman By

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With consistently compelling releases from labels like EGEA and CAM Jazz, the vibrancy of the Italian jazz scene is becoming more and more recognized by a larger international audience. Increasingly self-evident is that the Italian jazz community encompasses both the broader improvising tradition of American jazz and the intrinsic ethnicity of its own rich musical history. But while much of EGEA's music has a distinctive coastal Mediterranean flavour, and CAM Jazz, by focusing to some extent on the vivid legacy of Italian film composers like Nino Rota, leans towards a more cosmopolitan aesthetic, what of the folkloric roots of rural Italy?

Acoustic guitarist Simone Guiducci's Gramelot Ensemble, with Fausto Beccalossi, clarinetist Achille Succi, percussionist Roberto Dani, and bassist Salvatore Maiore, has remained intact since its first recording, 2000's Cantador . The group continues to explore the juncture between modern improvisation and traditional Italian folk music on its latest release, Dancin' Roots. Augmenting the core quintet with guests Ralph Alessi on trumpet, Don Byron on clarinet and, on one track, pianist Andy Milne, Guiducci and the ensemble evoke images of country roads and small villages—a far cry from the more urban sound of Enrico Pieranunzi's FelliniJazz or the warm coastal breeze of Trasnoche . Instead, pieces like the joyous and dancing "La Tur dal Sucar" feel more part of small-town celebration than upscale urban festivity.

The authenticity of the instrumentation is part of what lends the group its ethnic flavor. With the exception of Dani's drum kit, Gramelot Ensemble feels, at times, like the kind of street group one might encounter busking in a piazza under a hot sun.

And yet, for all the ethnic veracity of songs like "Maestro dei Sogni," which bookends the disc as a brief fanfare of an introduction and a more complete reading at the end, this is unquestionably an improvising group. "Gramelot Dance" may have a certain air of classical counterpoint, albeit in an irregular meter, but when the ensemble breaks down into smaller subsets—Beccalossi soloing over Maiore and Dani's lithe rhythms, and later, Byron interacting with Dani and Guiducci in a more open context—it becomes clear that for all their apparent knowledge of preserved traditions, they have a larger agenda at hand. Sometimes reminiscent of French clarinetist Louis Sclavis' recent Napoli's Walls project but smoother and less extreme, this set of original compositions range from the soft lyricism of "Canzone per Miranda" and "Chorale n.2" to the more propulsive "Come Dici" and breezy ambience of "Nedah."

Dancin' Roots proves, unequivocally, that one need not ignore one's past to create music that is contemporary; and that as much as American folkloric roots inform its version of the jazz tradition, viewing them as the only wellspring is to prejudicially deny the endless possibilities available from broader cultural sources.

Visit Simone Guiducci on the web.


Track Listing: 1. Maestro dei Sogni (intro) 2. Gramelot Dance 3. Canzone per Miranda 4. La Tur dal Sucar 5. Chorale n.2 6. Come Dici 7. Irony 8. Blanc 9. Nedah 10. Maestro dei Sogni

Personnel: Simone Guiducci: acoustic guitar; Fausto Beccalossi: accordion; Ralph Alessi: trumpet; Achille Succi: bass clarinet, clarinet; Don Byron: clarinet; Roberto Dani: drums, percussion; Salvatore Maiore: acoustic bass; Andy Milne: piano (#5 only)

Title: Dancin' Roots | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Felmay


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