I don't know about you, but the "Jazz is Dead" press pool is really starting to bug me. The scene is so vibrant, so full of talent, so everywhere and so alive that it's nothing short of overwhelming. Releases like this are here to remind - no convince
- us of that - they're just not easily dug out at your local record shop. In terms of the Biz, workarounds (involving a computer, a charge card and your friendly, neighborhood mailbox) have become essential, are in place, and continue to evolve. We're part of that workaround and do what we do in great part to point you in the right direction; in this case, to the latest independently released recording by a young European trio.
Guitarist/composer/leader Francesco Guaiana, 29, is from Palermo Sicily, studied at various Italian institutions before landing at Berklee in 1998, coming under the tutelage of forwardly free-thinkers Mick Goodrich and Jon Damian, and currently lives in New York. Bassist Daniele Camarda, 25, also hails from Italy, attended Berklee and resides in New York. Ferenc Nemeth , 26, from Hungary, is another Berkleeite, posessing a list of credentials in the world of musical academia as long as your arm who currently makes his home on the west coast near the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, where he is, deservedly, the drummer in residence.
But the core reason that jazz isn't dead is the music, and maybe the reason that this music has no ingredients of whatever part of jazz that is dead can be found in the title - you see-"it's-a-nojaz!" Highly evolved, decidedly influence-free and fresh, compositionally astute, and for the most part, anti-chops - you can hear in the music that these guys have gone around the horn on "jazz" and decided that, after absorbing a great measure of its pedagogy, to revisit their Mediterranean, indigenous , folkloric roots to take improvisation, in their own way, beyond styles and idioms.
"Intro" functions as such to the disc and the band, beginning with Guaiana arpeggiating in reverential, plaintive style in the multiple fashions at which he is so expert-swaths of guitar that sound like sweet callings from a mellotron-filtered belltower. Guaiana (unlike bassist Camarda) uses no looping, employing a wonderfully clean, human sequencer-like technique, full of fluidity and sophistication that makes the repeating motifs of "Frippertonics" seem simplistic by comparison. This sets up a "live" repeating chord loop that fades and swells, over which Camarda crafts a solo which purposely (as we will find out later) avoids convention. By this I mean the phraseology begins somewhat consonantly and fluidly but moves toward both rhythmic and angular irregularity, progressing to almost a detuned sound, all within a minute or so. Fretless bass? Sounds as if, but the credits do not reveal and we'll see that Daniele's expansive reservoir of technique is quite able of achieving such a sound on a fretted axe. And those drums - all loose-limbed, behind and ahead of the beat, pushing, skittering and crashing, yet holding it all together.
"Aleph" begins with an exhibition of Camarda's ultra-fluid technique, in classical, contrapuntal mode, with cleanliness and speed more measurable against an Eliot Fisk or a Vicente Amigo than a Jaco or a Steve Swallow. This revelation of more conventional virtuosity happens at various points of this set with all three players. I find it a vital element of the recording, providing a kind of proof that indeed, these guys are indisputably capable of playing on "regular" changes or forms, but refute them in favor of new territory. This kind of passing in and out of the "what we're used to" is a welcome device to ears stretched by the brand of outness offered herein; a brand, however far taken "out," that always gets tied back to consonant melodic concepts. Without batting an eyelash, Camarda transitions to a tango-like bass line as Guaiana plays his first single notes of the set. The attack and decay values of the notes on the guitar are audible right away. More than for most players, the ears present the picture to the brain of the fingers squeezing off the strings on the fret board. The bass line gets busier while the melodic line stays sparse and develops into a linear single note solo, eschewed by Guaiana for the vast majority of the record. Nemeth's drumming playfully intertwines with the guitar as Guaiana revisits the melody, spicing it with chord embellishments in linear "downtown" fashion- the chords sound out of scales more than forms, like Monder and Krantz.
On "Arrabbia #2," Camarda sets up a drone as guitar uses volume-swelled voice-led chords to set up a simple, true, single-note folkloric melody, passed on to Camarda, who adds counterpoint and a somber weight to it . Guaiana picks it up again as the three continue their motific dance. Camarda signals a shift in the proceedings at the six minute mark with a series of high pitches, and Nemeth's drumming picks up a hip hop beat- but just as a groove happens it unhappens into deconstructed melody and then drums. The original melody is somehow reclaimed then willingly relinquished to the drums again, accentuating Nemeth's organic approach to rhythm and the kit, as well as his feel for variants produced by slackened snare and loose heads on the toms.
"Unduetto" is a spontaneously improvised plaything for Daniele and Francesco- with a viciously cycling live bass line turning into a plodding sway for guitar to wax softly against. This segues into what, by the fourth tune into the set, has become a Camarda trademark, the prodigious neoclassical display of virtuoso command. Camarda has as authentically clean classical chops on the bass as I've ever heard-but couples it with a sincerely avant bent that here, for example, makes immediately available the replacement/displacement of conventional ideas with creaking, squeaking sound sculptures supporting dissonant guitar tone clusters.
"Todovalma/nojaz" begins with gently purring balladry and brushwork for three minutes until transitioning to a "jazz-like" pulse on the drums, steadfastly refusing to become jazz by virtue of an over-the-bar, rock-like chord progression supported by a syncopated, walking-but-yet-nojaz bass line, as Guaiana skitters rubbed chords over the top. The bass fades, and backwards sounding guitar loops on itself against a new, one note, bass line, which displaces itself by a beat per measure. Comped chords echo the bass against cymbal crashes until another rock-like, four-chord guitar progression turns into a heartbeat, finally spacing out into unnerving interstellar communique between bass and guitar. Nicely done, and the example I'd pick to show others what this band is allabout.
"L'Andozza" is merely a conventionally gorgeous, head and heart-transporting 100 seconds by Guiana, who employs ultra-precise and clean right and left hand technique to render your spirit along with him. It begs for at least twice the length, so I think I'll just loop it myself!
"Lullaby" sounds more like the soundtrack for an expedition than a sleep inducer, probably because of the tribal hand drumming on the kit and the simple propulsive melody, voiced jointly by Camarda and Guiana as one over a drone. The thrilling part is the conventional linear solo taken by Camarda - jawdropping, stunning, seemingly-fretless chops achieved, as I have found out via personal communication since my first draft of this review, on a standard six string fretted bass-no way! Motifs, etudes and lines unfurl with a fluid effortlessness - you get the feeling he could go on for days here although it's only a minute! What's more impressive-the virtuosity on display or the fact that he's kept it holstered in deference to compositional concept for the vast majority of this set?
Hard to believe these are all Guaiana's compositions. On paper sure - but there's no doubt this band profoundly changed whatever air within which these pieces breathe. That's another thought related to the many current premature assertions of the music's demise. Players like these, who should clearly devote their time to their own thing-their own unit- get splintered off by the realities of music-as-business. Here's hoping these guys find ways to continue on, because we all need more stuff like this - stuff so reeking of the exuberance of creation and life that it makes you want to go create yourself. I think I just managed to restate the definition of inspiration - come to think of it, so has this band.