Monome began life in 2006, but on this Italian trio's debut recording it's effectively a quartet, with German saxophonist Peter Ehwald playing on five of the seven tracks. Ehwald first played with Monome in 2010, and since when their collaborations have become increasingly frequent, to the point that his presence here is an essential ingredient in the mix. The chemistry, whether as a trio or a quartet, is pronounced and borrows from classical, post-bop and more contemporary influences; the circular motifs on the up-tempo numbers are at times suggestive of pianist Christoph Stiefel, and the music bridges the divide between jazz tradition and a more forward-looking approach.
Pianist and chief composer Piergiorgio Pirro's elegant classical lines introduce "Scales," but the ensemble sound soon dissolves into collective improvisation, which builds gradually with churning intensity. A quieter passage, characterized by delicate piano, a simple bass ostinato and deft brush-work emerges from the melee and redirects the quartet to calmer waters before returning to port. "Organ," too, after an urgent unison opening, flits between free passages and quieter introspection. Even in the music's most intense phases, however, there's an underlying sense of control, exerted principally by Pirro's hand. Ehwald's tenor playing on this episodic number swings between wild screeches, strong rhythmic grooves and an unhurried lyricism evocative of saxophonist Wayne Shorter.
Ehwald's "Southbound" is a delightful meditation on melody. Pirro weaves a delicate pattern equally influenced by jazz and classical idioms while bassist Matteo Anelli and drummer Gianpaolo Camplese add subtle shades and percussive accents. Ehwald's purring tenor bookends this intimate, gently probing piano trio dialogue. More grooving is "Anthem," whose bobbing rhythm has a pop-inspired immediacy. The melody shares the quiet power and grace of pianist Abdullah Ibrahim at his most lyrical, an impression further conveyed by Ehwald's resemblance to former Ibrahim saxophonist Carlos Ward on the robust closing section where saxophone and piano unite in almost gospel-inspired celebration.
The blue tonality of Camplese's gently swinging "Koshigaya" is based around a melancholic melody, which Pirro and then Ehwald develop in arresting fashion, providing two of the recordings' best solos. Two slower numbers round out the set. "Catville," a mood piece, possesses a meditative solemnity, but it's not without tension. Pirro and Ehwald's understated yet passionate playing leaves a lasting impression. It would have made a fine closer, but as it is the trio number "Inverno" does the job in a slightly more upbeat manner. Camplese's brushes provide impetus as Pirro once more demonstrates agility and finesse in his hybrid jazz-classical idiom.
There's much to admire in these compositions, whose strong melodic core is instantly gratifying. Those patient enough to go a little deeper into the music will be further rewarded, as there are subtleties aplenty in the contrasting moods and textures, as well as the unfolding dynamics and deeply felt lyricism in the playing. This is a fine debut from a contemporary jazz quartet from whom there's hopefully a lot more to come.
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