There haven't been many jazz quartets whose front line consists solely of a soprano saxophone (Wayne Shorter's is the only one that springs readily to mind). The cleverly named Spirabassi pairs French-born soprano saxophonist Stephane Spira with Italian-bred pianist Giovanni Mirabassi in a group whose other members are bassist Steve Wood and a second Frenchman, drummer Donald Kontomanou, with Yoann Loustalot's radiant flugelhorn added on Part 1 of the album's centerpiece, the "Improkofiev Suite." Spirabassi is also the name of Spira and Mirabassi's previous album together, recorded a decade before this one, in 2009.
The three-movement "Suite," based (quite loosely) on Sergei Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1, isn't the quartet's only venture into the realm of classical music; it is preceded by Erik Satie's even-tempered "Gymnopedie No. 1," on which the co-leaders are exemplary. The suite opens with a rhythmic motif that that may be more Spirabassi than Prokofiev but is nonetheless charming. Part 2, "New York Dream," portrays in musical terms Spira's adopted home before his recent return to France, while "No Strings Attached" is Spira's way of saying no violin is needed to design a tasteful salute to Prokofiev's concerto. Spira wrote the album's luminous opener, "Ocean Dance" (featuring nice introductory brushwork by Kontomanou), and the buoyant "After Rain" (ushered in this time by Kontonamou's tom toms), which are sandwiched around Carla Bley's trim and groovy "Lawns."
While Spira and Mirabassi solo admirably throughout, they really hit their stride on the fast-moving "After Rain," appending impressive technique to their usual spate of creative ad libs. Wood adds a deft solo on "Lawns," and he and Kontomanou comprise a sharp and supportive rhythmic duo. Everyone plays well together, and Improkofiev should enhearten anyone who has come to terms with the soprano's sometimes piercing upper register and welcomed it into his / her sanctum of desirable jazz instruments.
Ocean Dance; Lawns; After Rain; Gymnopedie No. 1; Improkofiev Suite (Improkofiev / New York Dream / No Strings
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