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Fondazione Siena Jazz Summer Workshop 2013

John Kelman By

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The second evening, two impromptu groups delivered sets at the Piazza Duomo that capitalized on mainstream swing, but in a most modern fashion. The first quintet featured trumpeter Steven Bernstein, saxophonist Pietro Tonolo, pianist Alessandro Lanzoni, bassist Ben Street and drummer Jeff Ballard, in a set that, in addition to potent quintet performances, broke the group down into various trios, with Bernstein, Lanzoni and Tonolo all getting real opportunities to shine. Lanzoni was particularly impressive—a 21 year-old pianist who first attended the Summer Workshop when he was 13 but now, eight years later, is a professional musician whose Dark Flavour (Cam Jazz, 2013), is a masterful debut from an artist well worth keeping an eye on.



Lanzoni and Ballard returned for the second set, this time with trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, saxophonist Miguel Zenón and bassist Larry Grenadier. Some of the players may have still been suffering the ravages of jetlag, but you'd have never known it, as the quintet delivered a powerhouse set that mixed cover material like Benny Golson's "Stablemates" with originals including Lanzoni's title track to Dark Flavour, Zenón's "Calle Calma," from Esta Plena (Marsalis Music, 2009), Akinmusire's "Henya," from his 2011 Blue Note debut, When the Heart Emerges Glistening (Blue Note, 2011), and Grenadier's "JJ," from Fly (Savoy Jazz, 2004), with the Fly trio that, also featuring Ballard and saxophonist Mark Turner, has since gone on to record two albums for ECM, most recently 2012's Year of the Snake.

For the third evening, the festivities moved to the smaller Cortile del Rettorato Universitario courtyard, where the air was thick and the sound, sadly, nowhere near as good as the shows at the Piazza Duomo the previous two nights. And it was a shame, because the two groups that performed that evening were both equally stunning. First, Wide Q with saxophonist Michael Blake—the only group, other than Fasoli's "Four," that was not a throw-together, but one that has already spent some time on the road—delivered a set that juxtaposed dark impressionism, largely from pianist Alessandro Giachero, with the fiery power of bassist Franco Fabbrini and the intensely visual drummer Francesco Petreni, who pushed the already incendiary Blake to even greater heights.

Still drenched in sweat, Blake came back for a second set that featured guitarist Nir Felder, bassist Ben Street and drummer Roberto Gatto. The set may have suffered from difficult sound and too little rehearsal time, but was more than made up for with everyone's energy and total commitment to the music. Felder proved, in particular, someone to watch, a young guitarist who has completely avoided the overt influence of Kurt Rosenwinkel and whose command of his instrument is already something to which many aspire but few attain. Gatto, an alum of groups with Enrico Rava but a leader in his own right with fine albums like Traps (Cam Jazz, 2007), is a drummer capable of working in just about any context, and here he was tested as the quartet worked its way through material by Dewey Redman, Dave Brubeck and, one of the set's highlights, an original composition from Felder.

While the classroom work is intensive—each day for two weeks, with just one day off in the middle (an Italian holiday on August 1), with every student taking one instrumental class and one combo session every morning and afternoon—the Fondazione Siena Jazz offers even more, with an extensive archive that includes thousands of scores, books and magazines, as well as music in every media, ranging from wax cylinders and eight-tracks to vinyl, DAT, CD, cassette tape and reel- to-reel tape. "When you see somebody entering the archives and getting all excited about the recordings and the chance of doing research, it becomes clear that the future of music is also in knowing its past," Martinelli asserts.



But there are challenges facing the workshop each year, too—one of them being the simple question of language. Lectures by this writer and fellow journalist Thomas Conrad were presented in English, but also translated into Italian by Martinelli, in real-time. That said, Martinelli is clear in asserting that "you have to deal with the fact that English is the lingua franca of jazz, so young musicians have to learn to speak English—to practice their English until they are comfortable—because if they want to network with people from Russia, Germany or Australia, English is going to be spoken. And then there's the repertoire and the idea that if you don't know the words, if you don't know the story; if you don't know the relevance, then you can't really play the song. Even the way that you present the melody of a song, it's kind of empty inside if you don't know what the melody is about."

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