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Luca Luciano: Partenope

Ian Patterson By

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Italian composer/clarinetist Luca Luciano holds a unique position as the only fulltime jazz-clarinet/classical music professor in the UK, a chair he holds at Leeds College of Music. His previous recording, Neaopolis (Redkite Records, 2004)—a suite accompanied by pianist Franco Piccino—was a thrilling exploration of the relationship between composed and improvised music, and highlighted Luciano's facility in drawing together diverse musical idioms quite seamlessly. Partenope follows a similar approach, minus piano, as part of the clarinetist's ongoing exploration of extended techniques for the contemporary repertoire and his own compositions. At just under 30 minutes the recording is like an old EP, but less is often more, and Luciano displays compositional maturity and virtuoso brilliance in abundance.

The opening miniature "Rondo Contemporaneo" begins with a melody worthy of George Gershwin but flirts with European folkloric melodies, inspired perhaps by his native Naples. Two equally short fragmenti are contemporary sounding vignettes; Luciano's use of quarter tones and multiphonics, and his meditative, yet vaguely edgy tone, recall veteran Korean avant-garde saxophonist Tae-Hwan Kang's brand of minimalism.

The heart of Partenope, however, resides in two ten-minute sequenze, premiered at Bristol Cathedral in '09. Inspired by Gustav Mahler's line: "A symphony must be like the world, it must embrace everything," Luciano casts his net far and wide, starting close to home, however, by employing the Neapolitan minor scale on "Sequenza #1." Luciano's inherent love of melody—doubtless stemming from his Neapolitan roots—acts like a unifying thread through the twists and turns of the engrossing 9:50, even if the sources of his inspiration are surprisingly diverse.

Romantic Mediterranean melodies and more urgent Balkan folk melodies rub shoulders with contemporary classical expression. The shadows of Ravel and Stravinsky lie under Luciano's sinewy lines, though there are also shades of Bartok's Romanian folk dances in some of the livelier sections, where Luciano's clarinet weaves heady, swirling figures. At around six minutes Luciano's sweetly lyrical improvisation evokes the warm, bebop language of clarinetist Buddy DeFranco's softly swinging blues.

"Sequenza #2 in 'A' Minor" unfurls from a place of melancholy into a sultry Pink Panther-esque blues motif, which in turn gradually evolves into an extended section of contemplative lyricism. Apart from a passage of characteristic southern Italian folk melody, it is a challenge to discern the composed from the improvised, except where Luciano throws caution to the wind in short but exhilarating bursts. Even when seemingly lost in unselfconscious exuberance, Luciano's clarinet is a vector for soaring melody.

"Jazz Impromptu" is Luciano's homage to alto saxophonist Charlie Parker. Starting from the slowly stated theme to "Now's The Time," Luciano displays his virtuosity in the upper reaches of his Boehm System clarinet, quoting briefly from Parker's repertoire in between sharp, tumbling runs where every note is clearly accented. The joy of making music permeates Luciano's every phrase on Partenope, and if not quite a one-man symphony, he at least shares Mahler's openness to musical influences. The result is an uplifting musical journey which transcends genres, borders, and time.

Track Listing: Rondo Contemporaneo; Sequenza # 1; Fragment # 4; Sequenza # 2 in "A" Minor; Fragment # 5; Jazz Impromptu (Homage to Charles "Bird" Parker).

Personnel: Luca Luciano: clarinet.

Title: Partenope | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Partenope Productions


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