Italy-based EGEA Records states in its press release that it is "more than just a record label. It's a music concept whose very name suggests the desire to explore the features of a totally Mediterranean identity." And releases including Il Circo
and Mari Pintau
would definitely support that philosophy. But while three out of four of the musicians on Oltremare
are Italian, the music moves, this time, farther north, away from the sea and deeper into continental Europe for a programme that is influenced more by European classical impressionism and, indeed, the American tradition than folk music of the Mediterranean.
Saxophonist Pietro Tonolo and pianist Riccardo Zegna, last heard on Zegna's more ethnic '03 EGEA release, Barcarola , demonstrate that while folk music runs rich in their blood, they are equally at home on a contemporary jazz session that ranges from the out-and-out swing of "Sospeso" and "Ljado" to the more outward-reaching rubato of "Solstizio" and the freer "Aura." The decision to enlist Paul Motian on drums was a wise one; few drummers are better at bridging the gap between the traditional and the abstract, and this album is all about exploring that divide, all the while retaining a certain lyricism that ties things together, bringing a clear focus. Motian, ever the colourist, is a master at implication. On the dark tone poem "Dolcemare," he paints with delicate strokes; even on the slightly more insistent "Ivan," the rhythm is pieced together only through the collective work of Motian, Zegna and bassist Piero Leveratto; no individual explicitly states the time, but when the three parts are combined it magically appears.
Tonolo demonstrates a clear tone and concise method; his soprano bears some resemblance to John Surman in its avoidance of the more nasally timbre so often associated with the instrument. Zegna infuses a sense of romance, left and right hands often playing counterpoint to each other, rather than the left merely comping behind the right's linear soloing. Leveratto's approach is subtle, more felt than heard. Together, along with Motian's textural style, they create a sound that owes something to West Coast Cool. Even when the group heads out into freer territory there are no rough edges; it's all about smooth curves and rounded corners.
Oltremare , like other EGEA releases, features a rich aural quality; the result of recording in a beautiful theatre rather than a more confined studio. It proves that Italian jazz is alive and well and, perhaps more so than other EGEA releases, shares a certain reverence for the jazz tradition that is deeper than merely the improvisational spirit.