Novara Jazz 2018

Novara Jazz 2018
Henning Bolte By

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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.


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