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Federico Ughi Quartet: Federico Ughi Quartet

Florence Wetzel By

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The Federico Ughi Quartet is part of the lineage that continues to emerge from saxophonist Ornette Coleman. Ughi's work embodies a range of disparate influences, including classical music and Italian folk tunes, but in the quartet's eponymous release Ughi pays homage to Coleman's spiritual, philosophical, and musical influence. The quartet even mirrors Coleman's archetypal two-horn-bass-drums lineup, in this case David Schnug on alto sax, Kirk Knuffke on cornet, Max Johnson on bass and, of course, Ughi on drums.

The group also follows Coleman's lead through blending the composed and the improvised. The dance between these two streams has intrigued—nay, haunted—jazz musicians from the inception of this music, but after years of hard work Ughi has discovered his own balance. He has also found skilled players to help realize his vision; this group plays together frequently, putting in the time and commitment necessary to create the one-mind so vital to improvisational cohesion.

The essential magic in Ughi's music, however, comes from the heart. The sincerity and emotional timbre of his compositions are always palpable, whether the songs are upbeat or contemplative. "Quantunque" is a bright, bouncy piece where bending notes and moments of dissonance mingle happily with the melody. It's a sparkling tune, joyful and welcoming, and a terrific way to start off the recording. "Second Day Syndrome" is a warm, majestic song that features powerful unison work between Schnug and Knuffke. It's a pleasure to witness such spot-on front line playing, with rich energy reminiscent of classic Blue Note recordings. A fresh tune with, appropriately, many colors, the jaunty opening statement of "Technicolor" teeters on chaos, but then slows down and offers a lilting melody line infused with folk music. The song shifts moods often and displays a host of off-kilter colorations, but its vigorous drive and innate lyricism hold all the elements together beautifully.

The group also excels on ballads. The spare "Song for Charles" is a moving portrait with exquisitely sinuous notes. There's a wonderful improvised conversation between the two horns, with Ughi's drums simmering in the background and Johnson's emotive arco bass providing powerful support. And "Ange" is just gorgeous, a pensive tune with a whiff of melancholy. The horns are particularly impressive here, with Schnug digging deep into a bluesy solo and Knuffke expressing a yearning from the soulful depths.

This is the quartet's first release, and altogether it's a beauty. Ughi's name is usually linked with his illustrious mentors—including Coleman, bassist William Parker, and multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter—but these days he stands alone as a fine musician in his own right, with this group just another shining example of his strengths.

Track Listing: Quantunque; Song for Charles; Letter A; Technicolor; Ange; Second Day Syndrome; Line; Circled Square; May; Wearing A Wire?

Personnel: David Schnug: alto sax; Kirk Knuffke: cornet; Max Johnson: bass; Federico Ughi: drums.

Title: Federico Ughi Quartet | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: FMR Records


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