For over twenty years, the Italian producer, composer and guitarist Nicola Conte has pursued a resolutely independent path in jazz and jazz-related music. The Schema label, with whom he has almost exclusively partnered since his breakthrough album, 2000's acid-jazz masterpiece Jet Sounds, is based in the fashion-centric northern city of Milan. But Conte nearly always records at Sorisso Studio in his hometown, Bari, a seaport on the heel of Italy's boot on the country's southern Adriatic coast. This off-the-beaten-track location reflects, and doubtless bolsters, Conte's independent spirit.
Most of the highwater marks in Conte's discography have featured the trombonist Gianluca Petrella, another Bari resident, who is the co-leader on People Need People. The pair have been involved in such landmark recordings as Conte's Jet Sounds, New Standards (Schema, 2001, an EP co-billed with Petrella), Jet Sounds Revisited (Schema, 2002), Other Directions (Schema/Blue Note, 2004) and most recently Let Your Light Shine On (MPS, 2018), on which Petrella played a role approaching co-leadership. But People Need People is the duo's first full-length 360-degree collaborative project.
The album is positioned to attract the more inquisitive end of today's electronic-dance-music audience. Along with modal jazz, soul and spiritual Afro-jazz, longtime staples in the Conte-Petrella mix, the jointly composed and produced disc draws on hip hop and digital beats. There is less improvisation than on Other Directions or Let Your Light Shine On, but the music retains an underlying jazz sensibility and the with-vocals tracks address contemporary societal issues in a thoughtful manner. The album merits approaching with an open mind.
P.S. Among the instrumental tracks is "Nigeria," a gritty Afrobeat-inspired platform for Petrella's trombone, which once again raises the perennially perplexing question: why is the trombone almost entirely absent from modern West African styles including Afrobeat, yet so widespread in that diaspora's Brazilian samba? Answers in the Comments box below please.
Hold On To Your Dreams; The Higher Love; Imani River; Nigeria; People Need People; Inner Light; New World Shuffle; Good Juju; African Spirits; Tribes; Mother Nature.