Home » Jazz Articles » Novara Jazz 2018

Live Review

Novara Jazz 2018

Novara Jazz 2018

Sign in to view read count
Novara Jazz 2018
Novara, Italy
May 31 to June 3, 2018

Novara Jazz is a three-week festival in Northern Italian town of Novara situated in the Piedmont region and the Po plain. It is a young and dynamic scion in the festival landscape with a strong spirit of exploration and discovery. It is a case of less propaganda and more real experience. Its strong card in the game is the connection of music with special historical/cultural sites, food and wine.

Novara is an entirely unique Piedmont urban entity (about 100.000 inhabitants) with its very own character situated in between the big cities Milan and Turin and near Lago Maggiore in Ticino. It has a beautiful historic old town center with a relaxed, hip atmosphere and is not yet overrun by tourists.

Novara is rice and the color associated with it is a special kind of silvery bluish green, which you can experience when riding along the extended rice fields of the Po plain outside town.

Novara will be the host of the 6th European Jazz Conference, September 12-15, 2019. It will be the first time this event is hosted in Italy since the General Assembly of Europe Jazz Network was transformed into the European Jazz Conference in 2014. There is also a strong connection of Novara to this year's conference that will be a held at Centro Cultural Belém in Lisbon, September 13-16. The building of Centro Cultural Belém was designed by the architects Vittorio Gregotti (1927) from Novara and Manuel Salgado (1927) from Lisbon—an astounding continuity.

In Novara I met and experienced an extraordinarily vivid interaction of developing cutting edge music with architecture, sites, art, culture, history, business, and, as part of it all, unusual hospitality—an astonishing alliance that gradually revealed itself. While the mindset around festivals often is determined by exclusion, by 'what is not possible,' in Novara the mindset is rather driven by a spirit of 'what more is possible?'

The festival and its sites

The festival stretched over three weekends and had more than 30 concerts spread over one main venue, Broletto, and special sites in the historic city center and in the Countryside: Restaurant/winery Opficio, farmhouse Cascina Bullona, the old mill Mulino Vecchio, powerplant Centrale Idroelettrica 'Orlandi," Parco Beldi, Villa Picchetta, parks and vineyards, de cathedral, courtyards in the old city, castle Visconteo Sforzesco, Palazzo Natta, museum Giannoni. The whole town is permeated by the spirit of the festival, most palpably through a great variety of inventive artifacts of musical instruments in shops and shop windows.

There were 11 Italian units, 15 foreign units and 5 combinations with Italian musicians. Musicians and groups came from Sweden (3), Norway (2), UK (2), Finland (1), Denmark (1) Belgium (1) and the US (5+3). The festival presented five outstanding female musicians: Italian bassist Silvia Bolognesi, Finnish saxophonist Linda Frederiksson, Norwegian saxophonist Marte Lea and British vocalist and bandleader Nabiya Brandon.

The three weeks' middle weekend I attended, focused mainly on musicians and groups from Italy, a welcome opportunity to get to know more groups from the Italian scene rather than the ever-returning well-known names. The three days presented three Italian configurations, Bortone Trio, Simone Lobina "Solo," Vignato/Mirra/Pacorig plus three Italian-American collaborations, namely Pipe Dream, Giovanni Guidi Drive!, the Kinzelman/Haberman duo, two American acts, Horse Lords and Hank Roberts solo, and British unit Nubiyan Twist on Saturday night.

Writer Enrico Bettinello, from Venice and also heavily involved in Novara Jazz, recently ranked 15 Italian jazz musicians as the ones you need to know about. This year's edition of Novara Jazz had five of them at the festival, namely bassist Matteo Bortone, saxophonist Dan Kinzelman, vibraphonist Pasquale Mirra, trombonist Filippo Vignato and bassist Silvia Bolognesi.

The main venue was the semi open-air stage in the inner courtyard of Broletto located in the historic center of the city. In the morning and afternoon other special locations in the historic center became venues too.

Broletto is composed of four constructions around a courtyard. The entire, recently restored, complex of buildings houses the prestigious Giannoni Collection, which includes hundreds of paintings and works of internationally acclaimed Italian artists. It is a hub in the historic old town and a location for events and exhibitions.


For me personally the most surprising units were the not yet known triad of well-known pianist Giovanni Guidi with bassist Joe Rehmer and drummer Frederico Scettri that opened the second night on Friday and the quintet Pipe Dreams on the first night. Pipe Dreams comprises four high profile Italian musicians of the young and middle generation gathered round legendary New York cellist Hank Roberts. The link with New York is drummer Zeno De Rossi, who worked amongst others with Brooklyn saxophonist Chris Speed. He recorded with Speed the duo-album <>Ruins released on Speed's Skirl label. De Rossi is a much in demand musician operating on a broad scale of types of music. The youngest member is ubiquitous trombonist Filippo Vignato (1987). Trained in Paris he is one of the brightest young voices on the Italian scene, while keyboardist Giorgio Pacorig and vibraphonist Pasquale Mirra of the middle generation can be found in a lot of prominent combinations and on numerous albums of the last two decades.

The Guidi-Rehmer-Scettri configuration of Fender Rhodes, electric bass guitar and drums that just released its first album Drive! on the quite active Auand label of Marco Valente is the stark opposite to Guidi's work for the German ECM label and has just entered the stage for its first concerts. The fat and frivolous music of Giovanni Guidi (1985), Joe Rehmer (1984) and Frederico Scettri (1985) with its ground covering big electric sound surrendered to the inescapable tractive power of deep groove and hung on to the rims of trance state. Guidi let his fender buzz, tremble, smack and cry. Underpinned by the wavering and smoking sound of Joe Rehmer's pretty cool bass playing and driven and punctuated by Frederico Scettri's tight and pointed drumming the triad made its strong and surprising mark—no chicken feed, what they did. While they first were boosting heavy Viking weight (as a kind of Elephant 9 allies), later on Mediterranean lightness took over. As a counterpart they sparked a nice hotchpotch of familiar old rock/pop melodies—some associations with the music of Doug Sahm arose, could arise -to cook, stretch and working into climaxes. Scettri even intercalated a drum solo in "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" mode. The transitions felt a bit odd sometimes but it became clear that the configuration has a great potential to be unfolded live into a yet stronger form in concerts ahead. Warmly recommended.

The music of Pipe Dream with a much richer instrumental line-up is a quite different story. They presented material mainly from the group's brand-new eponymous album on Cam/Kepach Music. Pipe Dreams presented sweeping melodies with lots of stop and go, turnabouts and lusciously flourishing elaborations without losing the ground-line, however far they were digressing. Soloing parts were solidly carried and embedded by the other instrumentalists. Actually, a lot happened simultaneously and/or in response to each other. Quite often parallel or diverting strands emerged, were re-united, split up and diverted again from each other. That created lavishly blossoming weaves of sound. The lush flowering and the finding of the primal gestalt passed off hand to hand, constantly feeding each other. It never was merely working through a theme or showing off deconstructed improvisations. The orchestral character of the music emerged from freely interconnecting and agile exchanging voices. Trombone, violoncello and human voice stood out when giving impulses or when recapitulating but never dominated or stood above the other voices. It was, in short, a polyvalent happening that generated a rich melodic growth of sound.

What else

Parts of Pipe Dream performed the next day at special sites in the old city, Hank Roberts played solo in the main church building Basilica San Gaudenzio and the grouping of trombonist Filippo Vignato, keyboard spirit Giorgio Pacorig and vibraphonist Pasquale Mirra supported by a vociferous swarm of swallows enlivened the courtyard of Natural History Museum Faraggiana Ferrandi with its stuffed exotic animals. Here the three musicians did not have to serve a greater orchestral whole. In an open improvisation they created a playful whole from and with each other's found sounds, very much to the pleasure of the numerous, quite varied, curious audience that, for the most part, were not used to that kind of music. It was a felicitous match of the site, living and dead animals, a varied pleasant audience of locals as well as nice wine and food.

The morning concert of Hank Roberts in the huge nave of the cathedral Basilica San Gaudenzio was another extraordinary and memorable event to start the day with. Endowed with a humble and friendly spirit Roberts bowed, plucked, strummed his instrument and sang to sheer joy of the creator and the angels conveying the sound. Right at noon the chiming of the church bells fell in and Roberts ended emphatically with a piece dedicated to the Cayuga, one of the five Haudensaunee (Iroquois) nations of indigenous people of New York, and their original homeland in the region bordering Cayuga Lake in what is now central New York State.

In between these two, saxophonist Dan Kinzelman and Horse Lord drummer Sam Haberman played in the courtyard of Biblioteca Civica Carlo Negroni. Kinzelman (1982), a highly versatile reedman, is one of the longer term Italian American expats that are part of the Italian scene among others forming trio Hobby Horse with fellow American expat Joe Rehmer and Italian drummer Stefano Tamborrino (also part of the trio of bassist Matteo Bortone). Its latest album Helm was announced as "a collection of sonic images, broken cyclic patterns, political fight songs, united by its diversity." When I write "versatile" here, it means that musicians as Kinzelman are able to pass through different genres and (historical) styles thereby creating new kinds of unity as indicated in the musicians' own words: "Passing from hypnotic drones to violent explosions of noise, they manage to maintain an underlying sense of balance, shared exploration and discovery, sculpting their sets into an overarching form which maintains artistic coherence despite (or perhaps due to) the drastic contrasts it contains." Kinzelman and Rehmer are also cornerstones of Ghost Horse, a quintet that besides Glauco Benedetti (euphonium, tuba, perc) and Gabrio Baldacci (baritone g) also comprises ubiquitous trombonist Filippo Vignato. Ghost Horse is closely related to Novara Jazz, the group having been fostered by the festival. Kinzelman's performance at the library had a more sober character and focused on shifting tone qualities and long tones in open interaction with Haberman's drumming in a highly captivating way.

The first evening on Thursday bassist Matteo Bortone with pianist Enrico Zanisi and drummer Stefano Tamborrino set the tone by starting with a heavy rumble passing into M-base angularity. Bortone is a much in demand bassist in the younger Italian (and also French) scene. This bass-led and bass-driven (piano) trio had a powerful attack and cut deep furrows along rugged terrain. The great dynamics leveled off later on and became a bit static but the group succeeded in getting over the hill.

The second evening was opened with a satellite performance by Italian electric guitarist Simone Lobina (1982) at the brewery Croce Di Malto in the village Trecate outside Novara. It was a nice small neighborhood event at the friendly small-scale brewery. Lobina, sitting in the doorway, gave a performance for the audience sitting outside. With gentle restraint he elaborated melodies by embedding them in quiet soundscapes. The way his music emanated held hints of Indian music—a nice upbeat to the evening.

Giovanni Guidi Drive! in the second night was followed by Horse Lords. This quartet from Baltimore was one of a kind. It seems that the group hits the road like young rock bands, heavily touring the rough way. Saxophonist Andrew Bernstein, bassist Max Eilbacher, guitarist Owen Gardner drummer Sam Haberman make a rigorous, sharpened and relentlessly energized kind of minimal music. By means of especially adapted and prepared electric instruments they permanently execute surprising maneuvers and create unheard, crazily interlocking sound waves. It started as a kind of Kopfschmerzmusik (headache music) and after a while sounded like a crazy bagpipe posse. It is a really new thing that in view of its radical approach, urgent insistence and uncompromising persistence, and has more in common with Japanese group Goat from Osaka (see my review here), Swiss guitar group Sonar or even the tonal splicing and expansion of Colin Stetson than with the (more moderate) minimalism of Swiss Ronin or British GoGo Penguin. Horse Lords however applied themselves to a quite peculiar mode of clockwork precision and riotous attack.

British Nubiyan Twist headed by vocalist Nubiya Brandon at Broletto was a choice for a broad Saturday night audience. It worked out to a certain degree despite, or simply because of, the strangely distanced stage acting of Nubiya Brandon. Elegantly dressed, Brandon staged a strong hot-cool contrast. While smashing funk and pumping hot beats slammed from the stage, she swaggered almost blasé across the stage, her face mostly hidden behind her forest of long curls.

For the first Sunday concert at noon visitors had to get up to the cupola of Basilica San Gaudenzio via a small elevator in the Alferi bell tower to the restored Sala del Compasso high above the roofs of the old town. Last year the Vancouver triad of guitarist Gordon Grdina, clarinetist Francois Houle and drummer Kenton Loewen shook up the walls. This Sunday's high noon the Italian group appropriately named Clock's Pointer Dance made its appearance.

Clock's Pointer Dance is an Italian quintet based in region Lombardy. The group was formed on the occasion of the first JazzForum in Annecy (October 2015) as a representative of Clusone Jazz Festival. It is a quintet with a strong electric guitar contribution (Michele Bonifati) versus a firm horn section of trombone (Andrea Baronchelli), trumpet (Paolo Malacarne) and altsax (Andrea 'Jimmy' Catagnoli), 'mediated' by a drummer (Filippo Sala). It is line-up that sets the stage for contrasts and confrontation. The group had a cornucopia of ideas. The best they presented was, perhaps, "A Fish." It started with a nice cross of Albinoni's famous Allegro (in G-minor) and a southern Funeral March that all of a sudden vanished in a deep maw from which scattered present-day urban beats, noise and strange electronic distortion arose. In a rather opaque way these particles fused into an electric stream of sound that gave leeway to the original theme then expressed in heavy electric manner. The closeness of classical and popular themes here, as well as the overlapping shape shifting had a strong Italian trait. Also Nino Rota was not that far away.

It was the last concert I attended at this year's Novara Jazz together with fellow guest Frank van Berkel from Amsterdam Bimhuis. We would 'miss' the last week's program, a whole series of extraordinary strong acts, which I would have liked to see there -but also in the Amsterdam venue or at other festivals too. For now, however, it remains an exclusive Novara thing. In that sense Novara Jazz can serve as a role model and is it a high contender for the EJN award fostering that kind of bold cutting edge programming: Gianluigi Trovesi and Rudi Migliardi with the Banda Filarmonica di Oleggio, the Swedish quartet of Goran Kajfes, Jonas Kullhammar, Jesper Nordenström and Johan Holmgard, Belgian wild trio De Beren Gieren, Austin's notorious and gorgeous wild ride The Young Mothers, John Surman, Swedish Subtropic Arkestra of Goran Kafjes and the yearly bass solo concert in front of the choppy seascape painting at the Galleria D'Arte Moderna Giannoni. This year it was Ingebrigt Håker Flaten's turn.

Origin, point of departure and perspectives

As mentioned above the vivid interaction of music with architecture, sites, art, culture, history and business revealed itself gradually during the three-day-stay in Novara. It is embodied and driven by Corrado Beldi and Riccardo Cigolotti together with a wonderful team. Cigolotto and Beldi built up a solid relationship with the town's mayor Alessandro Canelli who has been a strong supporter of their work. Beldi, a highly versatile person and an enterprising being pur-sang and Cigolotti, an architect, musician, musical adventurer and organizer, found each other, joined

forces and since then form a powerful tandem. Not only that they together introduced each concert. You could not walk through the city without meeting them and being led into more inner riches, cultural backgrounds or delicious physical well-being. It all happened with great care and casualness. Getting acquainted with the city's spirit, history and inner life is a natural effect of this kind of festival and its way of connecting.

After graduating in economics, Corrado Beldi worked for a few years in business consultancy. For nine years he has directed Cisita, a training institution of Confindustria Parma and is Vice-President of Laterlite, a leading company in light and insulating solutions for the building industry. Building up Novara Jazz together with Riccardo Cigolotti might be his greatest achievement, but he did a lot more, which enabled him doing Novara Jazz in such an extraordinary way. He was founder of the I-Jazz Association, an organization that brings together the 45 leading Italian jazz festivals, and acts as its Vice President. He ran Culatello & Jazz at the Castello di Roccabianca (Parma), was one of the founders of the D'Amore Committee for Casa Bossi, a member of the Honor Committee of MIART (Milan International Art Fair) and of the MoRe Committee (a Museum of Refused and Unrealized Art Projects). He is a writer and deejays under the pseudonym DJ Spanna. Engagement in art and music is something deeply rooted in his family.

It is not only this remarkable programming but especially the great sites these musicians/groups are matched with. The Novara team is doin' that thing year by year: as a team they are extraordinary doers.

Riccardo Cigolotti grew up with music in Novara. His father Carlo was president (from '97 to 2013) of the local Cantelli Conservatory. He is an architect working in a Milan company that deals with the world's expo and museum set-ups. Cigolotti organized a first provisional edition in 2004 together with Achille Silipo. It had already some seeds of the ideas and concepts that would come to maturation later.

Two key incidents frequently appear in the narrative over the coming into being of the festival: a wildly controversial and clashing discussion evoked by a lecture of Corrado Beldi on Uri Caine in a circle of traditionalist jazz people, and a residence of Butch Morris at the conservatory working with students with his conduction approach. The first led to the acquaintance of Cigolotto and Beldi and the second one a powerful ignition and long-term injection for conceptions of the emergence, shaping, developing and embedding of music that is still burning and vibrating on. The significance of Butch Morris cannot be overstated.

At the end of the three-days visit it also turned out, surprisingly, that through all the years most of the staff and the two directors, Beldi and Cigolotto, do all this pioneering work for the sake the content, driven and fed by their personal passion, unpaid. It seems that armed with their vision, knowledge and skills and their grounding in the area it allows them to operate much more freely in this role. With a development in full swing we can expect exciting and inspiring things to happen in and in between future editions (see also the interview with Riccardo Cigolotto and Enrico Bettinello).

Post a comment




Read Top 10 Moments in Jazz History
Genius Guide to Jazz
Top 10 Moments in Jazz History
Read Take Five with Monday Michiru
Read Henry Threadgill: 9 Plus Essential Albums
Read Bobby Sanabria: Giving Credit Where It's Due

Get more of a good thing

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories and includes your local jazz events calendar.