According to Italian double bassist Ferdinando Romano
, a totem "is a symbol that represents a natural or spiritual entity which has a particular meaning for a single person or even for a large group of people." Furthermore, it refers to the different references each of the musicians on this album have, the different people they've met and shared artistic experiences with, as Romano explaines in the liner notes. For his debut album as a leader, Romano has chosen to work with a number of Italian musicians he's played with for years and is lucky enough to be able to count New York-based trumpeter Ralph Alessi
as a guest on six of the eight tunes on the record.
Moving between sextet and septet arrangements (a flugelhorn graces 3 pieces), the music on Totem
lives off of its endlessly flowing natureseeing modal harmonies growing together and fading away again in a seamless way. Melodies are introduced with ease and reappear in altered forms. On most takes this recipe creates special tension and elevates the individual as well as collective performances of the musicians to new heights, as displayed on the semi-title-track "Wolf Totem." Pianist Manuel Magrini
is among the more prominent voices of that tune and dances through the changes with remarkable agility, recalling Marc Copland
's playing in his secretly dissonant melodic development and Brad Mehldau
in the spontaneous yet thoroughly constructed thematic improvisation.
A few scores have good intentions in their structural constitution. The interplay and overall dynamics of the band, however, can't seem to build or capture momentum, leaving the melodies fizzling into uncertainty. Introductory title "The Gecko" is representative of this stigma. Constructed over a throbbing pedal-point, Alessi's trumpet tries to color expressive lines over a foundation which, due to its monochrome nature, doesn't really want to allow the trumpet to cut loose. Nazareno Caputo's somewhat awkward entrance to his vibraphone solo seems to confirm this bewildering sentiment, whereas Magrini's poignant solo and the slow joining in of carefully designed horn arrangements subsequently pick up the slack and bring the somewhat irritating first half of the exposition to a more than reconciliatory finish.
The opener is the only case in which disharmonies of that nature are as noticeable. Most cuts on the record demonstrate remarkable musicianship and entertaining interplay that is simultaneously subtle and adventurous. Alessi's muffled trumpet tone on the ballad "Curly" builds an apt lyrical contrast to the elegant background accompaniment, while the two "Sea Crossing" parts are among the more hectic exhibitions on the record, finding drummer Giovanni Paolo Liguori
hitting snare and ride with utter conviction. With "Memories Reprise" and "Mirrors" the band finishes strong. Gentle soprano sax and sage piano play find lush accompanying sounds on the former composition, which belongs to the closest exhibitions to a classically swinging ballad on the album. Details like the seamless segue from sax to trumpet halfway through the demonstration are among this record's most striking virtues and attest to the sweat, heart and soul that these musicians, especially the leader himself, have poured into this album. On "Mirrors" the group finally deconstructs its approach and lets silence have as much a say as sound, before the ensemble drives the listener off into the sunset with a modern fusion groove.
To say that Totem
is an accomplished debut recording would be an understatement. Ferdinando Romano
has done so much right here. The compositions have been wrought and recorded with much thought and detail, the group (with very few exceptions) is in complete sync throughout with mesmerizing capability. It should prove exciting to see what Romano comes up with next, but for now there's plenty to discover and cherish on Totem
. Surely this specific totem will have a spiritual meaning of its own for plenty of adept listeners.
The Gecko; Evocation; Wolf Totem; Curly; Sea Crossing Part 1; Sea Crossing Part 2; Memories Reprise; Mirrors.