This is a must-hear for anyone interested in otherworldly acoustic phenomena due to architecture. Three saxophonists and a female vocalist performed this continuous improvisation in a “famous historical palace” in Genoa, Italy. The 44 minutes fly right by with the range of surprising acoustic effects that pop out at every turn. Each time I listen to it I experience a new interpretation of foreground-background relationships between the instruments, especially during the first few minutes when there is a greater emphasis on long tones. When one of the saxophones becomes the focus of attention, the others seem to envelope it lovingly; the four performers blend their sounds magnificently, including the vocalist, Cristina Alioto, who exercises a great deal of restraint, yet occasionally comes to the foreground with rich motifs. Every note is transformed by the reverberations induced by the massive space (with a fairly low ceiling judging by the picture in the booklet) and its stony surfaces. There are times when you could swear there is a violin cutting lines through the air or that there are really 10 saxophones, such are these transformations. We hear glacial tonalities redolent of Ligeti or Penderecki, yet these are often produced by only one or two of the instruments; the others might be engaged in the linear development of a motif with clear and even rhythmic contours. The fact that electronic processing is evoked, though not present, underscores the significance of the instrumentation, as it is rare to hear saxophones with electronic effects. If it were a trio of electric guitarists instead, the otherworldly feeling would be greatly diminished, as our ears are so accustomed to hearing just about anything come from a guitar and a stack of blinking effects units that it would be difficult to isolate the architectural influence. The saxophones are so marvelously sonorous and expertly played that it would have been a missed opportunity had other instruments been chosen. None of the saxophonists are familiar to me, but I get the impression that they are all products of conservatories and primarily engage in the performance of classical works, because they all emphasize clarity of line and labored repetition; the jagged complexity of free-jazz is uniformly absent. In fact, the transparent attempts to coordinate phrases might owe more to Dixieland than any other jazz-related domain. I wonder how much control the performers felt over the acoustics of the space—after all, anything they played probably sounded different to them than to the other musicians, not to mention the microphones, and every change of angle or standing position must have had unpredictable consequences. In fact, there are times when a single instrumental voice seems to suddenly undergo a Jekyll-and-Hyde transformation, as when Alioto, the vocalist, seems to be wailing on a held tone a thousand feet away one moment, only to be singing an intimate lullaby right in front of the microphone a second later. Perhaps the emphasis on powerful and clear tones was an intuitive strategy to minimize the wild sonic variation that the musicians were confronted with. I don't say "powerful" lightly: well after the recording is over, I can still hear the music in my head, especially the slow and penetrating two-note melody one of the players repeats numerous times during the first few minutes of the piece, sometimes extending it with a few more notes. These are extraordinary musicians and this recording is virtually guaranteed to pique the interest of any saxophone lover.
This review is reprinted courtesy of All About Jazz Italia: www.allaboutjazz.com/italy