Schema Rearward: The Reward of Visiting the Past

Jakob Baekgaard By

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While Davide Rosa's and Luciano Cantone's Schema label has created a contemporary jazz sound with influences from lounge music, soul, electronica and bossa nova, their sublabel Schema Rearward is the place for those seeking a more pure acoustic jazz sound. Emphasis is on re-issues of modern jazz, especially from the sixties, but contemporary releases have also found their way into the catalog to underline the connection between the past and the present.

The Kenny Clarke-Francy Boland Big Band
Live At Ronnie Scott's: Volcano / Rue Chaptal

Among the jewels in Schema Rearward's catalog are the releases from The Kenny Clarke -Francy Boland Big Band. Pianist Francy Boland and drummer Kenny Clarke formed the big band with help from producer Gigi Campi and the result was inspired. The line-up included musicians such as trumpeter Benny Bailey and saxophonists Sahib Shibab and Johnny Griffin. Live they could really blow the roof off and the concert the big band played at London's famous venue Ronnie Scott's on February 28 1969 was something special. Campi recalls Griffin saying: "Gigi, you're going to hear some strong shit tonight" and indeed the music gathered on Live At Ronnie Scott's: Volcano / Rue Chaptal is hot and swinging. It is a compilation of two albums: Volcano and Rue Chaptal and features the big band in full musical eruption, but also with a sophisticated sense of dynamics and texture. In fact, the restrained ballad "Love Which to No Loved One" shows how many colors the big band had on its palette. It could play like a volcano, but also blow like a soft, gentle breeze.

Benny Bailey

The Kenny Clarke -Francy Boland Big Band had an incredible amount of talented musicians. Trumpeter Benny Bailey was one of them and he steps out on his own on the wonderful album Mirrors. He gets help from Francy Boland whose dynamic string arrangements are simply superb. Albums with strings are sometimes in danger of becoming too cerebral or sugary, but Mirrors avoids both of these traps and manages to speak both to the head and the heart. Bailey's warm trumpet blows in the lush setting of the strings that become part of a dynamic landscape with drums, bass, electric piano, saxophones and flute. The result is an album that is both rhythmic and romantic and it belongs in the pantheon of great string albums with saxophonist Stan Getz' Focus (1961) and Clifford Brown's With Strings (1955).

Sahib Shibab

Saxophonist and flutist Sahib Shibab plays on Benny Bailey's Mirrors and Bailey shows up among a host of other Boland Big Band-associates on the sessions that comprise the double-album Companionship. The album shows the full range of Shibab's artistry, ranging from the spiritual "Om Mani Padme Hum" that starts out with hypnotic hand drums and moves into swinging territory with dark piano chords and Shibab's singing flute and chanting. "Calypso Blues," on the other hand, is a combination of two pregnant musical styles: calypso and blues. The song combines the lively rhythms of the Calypso with the mournful lyrics of the blues: "Don't got the money to take me back to Trinidad" as one of the lines in the song says. Shibab is perhaps most well-known for his playing with pianist Thelonious Monk, but here he shows himself as accomplished artist in his own right.

Sahib Shibab
Summer Dawn

Summer Dawn is another gem from Sahib Shibab. It opens with the irresistible "Lillemor" that reinvents the rhythm from pianist Dave Brubeck's "Take Five" and adds Shibab's flute that gently leads the rhythm into a slow ballad section before the vibrant rhythm emerges once again. This effect says a lot about Shibab's sophistication. He does not just stay in one musical bag, but changes tempi and aesthetic expression. At the heart of it all, however, is a love of rhythm. Even in the ballad "Campi's Idea," there is a vibrant bed of percussion underneath the piano chords. Summer Dawn dances elegantly into the light.

Eraldo Volonté
My Point of View

Sahib Shibab is an unsung musician that deserves more recognition and the same could be said about the Italian saxophonist Eraldo Volontè. He is often associated with the second generation of jazz musicians that helped to move jazz in Italy in a new direction. My Point of View was released in 1963 and shows Volontè in top form. The shadow of saxophonist John Coltrane lingers around Volentè's interpretations of standards like "Summertime" and "On Green Dolphin Street," but he is still his own man and his playing is intense and soulful. He also knows how to get deep inside a ballad, as "You're Weaver of Dreams" clearly shows, and the accompaniment from the rest of the group, including pianist Renato Sellani and bassist Giorgio Azzolini, is simply smoking.

Eraldo Volonté
Free and Loose

Azzolini turns up again as sideman on Volontè's album Free and Loose. The album was released in 1968, five years after My Point View, and it is a brave exploration of free jazz as the title indicates. Gone are the standards. They are replaced by Volentè's themes that form the basis of four different pieces. One of them is called "Dialogue" and this is exactly what this is: a conversation between highly skilled musicians. The music is free, but Volentè's playing is still deeply soulful as he enters a more undefined territory without the harmonic safety net from the standards. A new order rises in the middle of it all and while the music might be abstract at times, the musicians still know how to swing.

Giorgio Azzolini
What's Happening?

Bassist Giorgio Azzolini has been an important sideman for Eraldo Volontè, but he is also a charismatic leader in his own right. What's Happening? is one of his albums as a leader where he is playing in a trio with pianist Franco D'Andrea and drummer Franco Tonini. It was released in 1966 and the title track caught the attention of the famous German jazz critic Joachim-Ernst Berendt who said that: "'What's Happening?' for me is one of the most exciting European jazz compositions of this year."

"What's Happening?" is indeed an intriguing composition that starts out with Azzolini playing solo with bow while D'Andrea's piano drips gradually enter. The piano becomes more forceful with the accompaniment of Tonani's drums. There is a moment where Tonani is all alone, but then Azzolini and D'Andrea enter again. Essentially, it is all about listening and this is what these musicians do. They listen and then they see what happens. The album is both traditional and free. In fact, a sensitive reading of the standard "When I Fall in Love" shows how romantic Azzolini and the trio can be.

Giorgio Azzolini
Crucial Moment

The follow-up to Giorgio Azzolini's album What's Happening? is called Crucial Moment. It was released in 1968, the same year as Eraldo Volentè's Free and Loose, and Azzolini is still exploring the free approach that he shared with Volontè on that album. He is in the company of pianist Franco D'Andrea, who also played with him on What's Happening?, but the most interesting thing is the addition of two top players that many listeners will associate with Italian jazz: drummer Aldo Romano and trumpeter Enrico Rava. These stars of modern Italian jazz are heard as dedicated sidemen. Romano can take the rhythm anywhere and Rava plays with beauty and fire. The program is dominated by Azzolini's compositions, but there is a reading of "Israel," a recording associated with trumpeter Miles Davis, where the group is reduced to a trio without Rava. "Free Duet" is even sparser and shows the tight communication between pianist D'Andrea and the leader. Like the rest of the group, they combine freedom with lyrical sensitivity.

Pietro Ciancaglini
Reincarnation of a Lovebird

Another great Italian bassist is Pietro Ciancaglini who belongs to the contemporary jazz scene in Italy. Mostly Schema Rearward concentrates on the treasures of the past, so in a way it is unusual that the label releases new music. However, it is possible to find contemporary artists in the Schema Rearward catalog and in a way the album Reincarnation of a Lovebird, which was released in 2009, does look back. Ciancaglini pays homage to the legendary bassist and composer Charles Mingus. He does so with his own original compositions and readings of the master's music. The result is intriguing and respectful and highlights the sophistication of Mingus' compositions. Like a triptych, it shows the many nuances of his music and also makes it clear that Mingus was a part of tradition that goes all the way back to the pianist Jelly Roll Morton.

Johnny Griffin
Lady Heavy Bottom's Waltz

Pietro Ciancaglini pays tribute to a big man on Reincarnation of a Lovebird. The tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin was small, but also great, and he became known as "The Little Giant." His album Lady Heavy Bottom's Waltz was originally released on Vogue in 1968. It is a record that adds nuances to the idea that Griffin is a "fast tenor." An idea he comments on in the liner notes: ""They always talk about my being quick but what is "quick"? It's just my way of expressing myself, that's all. To be quite honest, the reason for my playing like I do is because I'm so nervous. I just have to take my horn in my hand and it starts to vibrate. I don't play in order to prove anything, I just play because I enjoy it." Joy is certainly felt in the music and Griffin slows down on the sensual ballad "Please Send Someone to Love" where he spins sweet, bluesy lines. Griffin was more than a fast saxophonist. He was simply a great saxophonist.

Piero Umiliani

Europeans were lucky to have a capacity like Johnny Griffin on the continent for a long period and fortunately he was not the only American star who visited Europe. The trumpeter Chet Baker is another example of a musician with close ties to Europe and Italy and he is the prominent guest star on Piero Umaliani's soundtrack to the movie Smog. The setting of the movie is Los Angeles and the music is just as complex as the city. There is a range of different moods from swooning strings to noir-style jazz and Latin swing and Baker's atmospheric horn is not the only highlight. Helen Merrill's voice is gorgeous on the title track where she sings "You are my only man / my lover man" with a sensual voice.

Quartetto di Lucca


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