Bonafede / Rava / Abercrombie / Street / Penn: Journey to Donnafugata

John Kelman By

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The Italian CAM Jazz label seems to be on a mission to present the music of renowned film scorer Nino Rota in a more improvisational context. First, pianist Enrico Pieranunzi's FelliniJazz was dominated by many of his more memorable themes. Now pianist Salvatore Bonafede delivers Journey to Donnafugata, homage to Rota's score for the Visconti film The Leopard. Capturing the diverse musical legacy of the island of Sicily where the film took place, Bonafede manages to blend loose interpretations of the Rota score with his own compositions, even throwing in a piece by Italian composer Guiseppe Verdi, whose lifetime coincided with the historical setting of the film.

With an intriguing cross-cultural group that includes Italian trumpeter Enrico Rava along with guitarist John Abercrombie, bassist Ben Street, and drummer Clarence Penn—Americans all—Bonafede has assembled a group that is not only comfortable playing within the more overt jazz tradition of pieces like the swinging "Quadriglia," but also in the more moody European impressionistic style of "Controdanza/Taceas, Me Spectes."

Going as far back as the '70s and seminal ECM albums The Pilgrim and the Stars and The Plot, Abercrombie and Rava play together like no time has passed, although Rava's approach seems, these days, more centred in a kind of '50s-era Miles Davis style whereas Abercrombie's tone and manner feel more in the present. On the stream-of-consciousness freedom of "Galop," their ability to anticipate each other's every move is a rare treat. On the two versions of the moody and rubato "Viaggio a Donnafugata" that bookend the disc, Abercrombie and Rava may be in more lyrical territory, but their instincts are equally vivid.

Elsewhere Bonafede's own compositions, "Reputation and Character" and "Angelica," are as thematically rich as Rota's. Bonafede's playing style is a true amalgam, blending a propensity for the density of Bill Evans with, amongst other things, a touch of Keith Jarrett's ability to generate gospel folksiness within more complex harmonic movement. And like any good film score, both pieces share certain common motifs which not only link them together but, positioned at near opposing ends of the disc, tie in with the Rota compositions, creating a narrative flow that defines the whole programme.

An all-too-rare guest appearance by guitarist Ralph Towner on "Reputation and Character" only illustrates how pitifully under-recorded he is these days. The word is that there will be a new Ralph Towner project out this year, and his playing here only whets the appetite for more.

Meanwhile, Journey to Donnafugata succeeds on many fronts: as a testament to the broader potential of Nino Rota's compositions; as an example of the kind of interplay possible when a group of sympathetic players are brought together; and as illustration of the many talents of Salvatore Bonafede who, as part of Joe Lovano's Caruso band and with the North American release of this album, deserves to realize the kind of recognition in the US that he has been garnering in Europe for the past fifteen years.

Track Listing: Viaggio a Donnafugata; Gran Valzer (solo trumpet); Reputation and Character; Mazurka; Polka; COntrodanza/Taceas, Me Spectes; Galop; Quadriglia; Taceas, Me Spectes; Gran Valzer (solo trumpet); Angelica; Valzer del Commiato; Viaggio a Donnafugata.

Personnel: Enrico Rava: trumpet; John Abercrombie: electric guitar; Salvatore Bonafede: piano; Ben Street: bass; Clarence Penn: drums. Special Guests: Ralph Towner: classical guitar; Michele Rabbia: percussion.

Title: Journey to Donnafugata | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: CAM Jazz


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