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Umbria Jazz Winter: Orvieto, Italy, December 28, 2012 - January 1, 2013

Umbria Jazz Winter: Orvieto, Italy, December 28, 2012 - January 1, 2013
Sara Villa By

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Umbria Jazz Winter 2013
Orvieto, Italy
December 28, 2012—February 1, 2013
Dee Alexander's Evolution Ensemble



Dee Alexander's sensitive and virtuosic voice, together with the exquisite harmony of her group, charmed the Umbria Jazz Winter public with two different concert series. The first was dedicated to the memory of Alexander's mentor, Light Henry Huff, and the second focused on the music of James Brown.



The group's new album, Sketches of Light (IGEA, 2012), was the basis of the homage to Huff's composition and role. The set opened the jazz festival with a perfect balance of upbeat, highly syncopated pieces, and softer, smoother compositions including "See You on the Other Side," romantically describing the masters of American jazz filling paradise with touching sonorities.



Dee's astonishing vocal range and technique were particularly heightened by the long, breathtaking scat sections on "Rossignol," where the singing transmogrified into a bird's tweeting in a dialogue with Nicole Mitchell's so graceful notes, reminiscent of the flight of a hummingbird. Alexander playfully invited the audience to join them with their own tweets in a theatrical moment of shared, joyful vocal interactions.

Her whispered high notes, emotional range and spiritual vibratos on "Truth" were enchanting and powerful at the same time. This same energy and sensibility, mixed with technical dexterity was mirrored in the whole group, which sparked with the ease of friendship and the strength of professional knowledge.



Nicole Mitchell's limpid, shiny phrasings on flute passed from spring-like, jumpy, vital crescendos, suggesting the foamy and fleshy energy of spring, to the more subtle and intimate accents of her ad hoc exchanges with Alexander.



Tomeka Reid's contrapuntal pizzicatos were counterbalanced with mellow, bowed intros, artfully mixing joy and melancholia, enthusiasm and meditative moods, as well as soulful, spiritual duo sections with Junius Paul on bass, who sensitively mastered the complex rhythmic percussiveness of his own signature style as well as the more lyrical passages of his duo sections with Reid.



Guitarist Scott Hesse showed bluesy arpeggios and surprising flamenco- like inserts, as well as his beautiful arrangements in the set dedicated to James Brown. Knitting the rhythmical waves of the group, from tables to minimalist brush strokes, with creative and unexpected breaks and a vocabulary mixing Creole patterns with traditional jazz tempos, was Ernie Adams, a confirmation of how drumming can be a poetic, cross-cultural texture on which original structures can be constantly developed.

Gregory Porter Septet



Introducing a rich sample of his new album—Be Good (Motéma Music, 2012)— and his previous Grammy-nominated Water (Motéma Music, 2010), Gregory Porter brought a jazz-imbued, Billy Wilder funk aura on stage.



His sets revealed not only a warm, smoky voice, but also the magic of original compositions grown from the urban African-American tradition of Harlem, including a piece openly dedicated to this creative musical cradle of NYC: "On My Way to Harlem." As Willy Smoth once said: "I'd rather be a fly on a lamppost in Harlem than a millionaire anywhere else," by listening to the warm-hearted nature of this hymn to Harlem one gets an idea of why it is still so. Other lullaby-like pieces of the same concert seemed to touch another vein of American-ness, reminding one of the touching atmosphere of Chaplin's "Smile."

Porter's septet worked like a lean machine to support his new American songbook. In the brass section the musicians often performed like a Greek choir, highlighting in unison the energetic refrains, and disclosing more metallic voices (like Tivon Pennicotton tenor) or smooth variations (as in the case of Yosuke Satoh on alto) or athletic forces (such as Josh Evans on trumpet) in their solos.



Bassist Aaron James mostly favored a more delicate, warm, and willingly understated poetics, dialoguing with Emanuel Harrold's surgical drumming, while pianist Chip Crawford backed the funky texture of Porter's compositions with sudden, twinkling phrases. The encore, a captivating and energetic "Free," developed over the obsessively repeated title-word, resonating loudly and sharply as a powerful memento of the social importance of this concept.



Paula Morelembaum Cello Samba Trio



Warmth coming directly from Bahia started spreading through the notes of Vinicius de Moraes' masterpiece under the same name, led by Paola Morelembaum's soft vocals as well as Jacques Morelembaum's bowed cello notes, resonating with touching essentialism. Soon after, Lula Gulvao's guitar solo, realized with fast, piercing arpeggios developed over minimal, yet significant rhythmic changes, added spice to the already flavorful soundscape.



Paola Morelembaum's soprano voice is able to modulate with calm dexterity from the softness of "Agua De Beber" to the difficult, highly syncopated refrain of "Telecoteco," a 1942 composition by Murilo Caldas and Marino Pinto which, as Morelembaum stressed in her introduction to the piece, paved the way for the birth of boss nova. This song's very heart was the superfast rhythm, driven by Marcelo Costa's nonchalantly impeccable drumming, a complex interweaving of soft and harsh brushstrokes.





Jacques Morelembau's cello solo captured with uncanny sensibility the sweet and sour sentiments of Joao Donato's "A Ra." The melodic texture built by Costa's smooth drumming and Morelembaum's joyful pizzicatos surrounded Paula Morelembaum's voice in "Insensateza" like a familiar embrace, which made its soft tonality shine.



Dr. Bobby Jones & the Nashville Gospel Superchoir



A classic gospel instrumental intro: guitar, Hammond organ, electric bass and piano opened the concert and the first song, featuring Andrew "Jr. Boy" Jones' warm solo sections, led the whole choir with contagious joy and passionate spirituality. Kimberly Fleming's vocals in "The Lord's Prayer" were captivating, with their heartfelt interpretation as the ensemble kept the stamina of the whole piece with dramatic rhythmic changes.



Three dancers accompanied "Summertime" with choreography reminding the audience of the historical setting of this memorable standard. In this version, it expanded from Dr. Jones' voice and piano riffs to Kyla Harris' solo: a majestic display of a smoky voice reaching incredible heights, followed by a full-volume choir finale.



The spiritual ending of the concert, built around whispered moments and an unexpected, bluesy guitar section showed another, more intimate and suffering side of the African-American church choir tradition and created a perfect emotional equilibrium with the more upbeat and joyful sections of this contagiously energetic set.



Giovanni Tommaso Reunion



Bassist Giovanni Tommaso's Reunion featured musicians that grew and collaborated with him and became, as he did for his generation, key musicians of Italian jazz, each with their unique sonic signature. Trumpeter Flavio Boltro, drummer Roberto Gatto, pianist Danilo Rea and saxophonist Pietro Tonolo, together with Giovanni Tommaso played sets filled with exciting vibes stemming from a formation of old friends playing new compositions and famous standards after years spent apart.



Starting with Tommaso's original piece "I bassifondi," revealing Tonolo's abstract solo on sax and a parallel, highly emotional section on piano, the concert unraveled towards more lively sonorities. Monk's "Bemsha Swing" opened on a fast, and rhythmically complex solo on double bass, followed by Boltro's crystalline trumpet and Tonolo's sharp sax disclosing the main melodic line. Boltro's sudden vibratos were mixed with happy sparkly phrasings, filled with smiles.



On "Angelica" Danilo Rea's languid, beautiful piano filled the room with romantic passages, while Roberto Gatto's rim shots, hand tapping and mesmerizingly fast drumsticks embellished "Cinema Moderno" with crazy rhythms.



The most stupefying element of this reunion was not just the peculiar virtuosity of these jazz musicians, but the way in which their styles so clearly disclosed utterly different ways of conceiving the music, fitting so well together in this ensemble. Tonolo's sophistication, Rea's lyricism, the joyful presence of Flavio Boltro, the strong hieratic style of Roberto Gatto, and the embracing direction of Giovanni Tommaso, the mastermind of a great concert.



Mauro Ottolini Sousaphonix "Big Factor"



Trombonist Mauro Ottolini created a theatrical homage to trumpeter Bix Beiderbecke which directly evolved from a Sci-Fi novel he co-authored. This book comes with a CD where music and narration become one in a funny, original multimedia experiment.



The plot of the story was hilarious. A virus, directly acting on human intelligence, spreads by means of bad music, invading the whole world. The only solution to the problem is travelling back in time, in search for the sound of Beiderbecke's trumpet. The masterpieces of this legend of jazz were arranged and interpreted with a surrealist sense of humor by Ottolini's band. Vincenzo Vasi's playful, clownish vocals and noises—a mixture of Tom Waits and Nick Cave, drenched in 1920s vocal styles—were just the first step. Vanessa Tagliabue Yorke and Stefania Fosca Ghizzoni sang, both solo and in a Charleston duo, and interpreted the various female characters of the story with different costumes, from the femme fatale to the esoteric foreteller.



Ottolini's trombone style passed from stomped fast tempos, to mockeries of muted bars, to loud, resounding and held notes. A touch of southern American folk music in Rico Tognoli's banjo style alternated Paolo Botti's romantic viola and Paolo di Giuli's lively cornet. The happy, athletic presence of Guido Bombardieri and Derek Hitman on sax was heightened by Zeno De Rossi's quick drumming.



A bluesy hallelujah, dominated by Ottolini's heartfelt trombone, was preceded by a swing ballad led by Franz Rezzoni's understated poetics on piano and Danilo Gallo's subtle double bass.



As the narration unfolded, with the Benny Goodman pieces played with the natural touch of a virtuoso by Paola Scarponi on clarinet, the atmosphere seemed to be more and more joyful, and to move towards an optimistic ending. Ottolini, deus ex machina of the project, directed the band with irony and stunning technique showing a trombone style that was, itself, the perfect homage to Beiderbecke's impeccable uniqueness.



Isoritmo Multimedia



The jazz formation Isoritmo presented an original multimedia show, dedicated to some of the key female figures of the Twentieth century. The visuals were directed by Massimo Achilli and featured the artistic works of French painter Marie Reine Levrat. The show "Elle, singulière, plurielle" began with an abstract piece, focused around vibraphonist Gianpaolo Ascolese, as a portrait of Grazia Deledda, winner of the Nobel prize for literature, was being shown onscreen. Then followed the antiwar song by Boris Vian "Les joyeux bouchers" perfectly adapted for Paola Massero's spiritual voice. This version of Vian's work created a stunning vocal parallel to the moving icons of the women who marked the last century, from Rita Levi Montalcini, to Rosa Luxembourg, from Françoise Sagan to Billie Holiday.

Gerardo Iacona's piano phrases revealed a surprising range of vocabulary running throughout the history of jazz, while saxophonist Filiberto Palermini created metallic stresses which perfectly complemented Rodolfo Rossi's piercing marimba and Elio Totti's smooth bass.



The post-modern, faux-naïve paintings by Marie Reine Levrat were crosscut with documentary images, summing up, between color and black and white, years of great contradictions as well as amazingly courageous and charismatic women.



Giovanni Guidi Trio





Museo Emilio Greco, one of the most intimate settings of UJW Festival, was particularly fitting for Giovanni Guidi Trio's concert. The rarefied essentialism of Guidi's arrangements and his preference for lower dynamics made him sound like a secret whisperer. If, at times, his signature approach reminded one of the fact he grew under the obvious influence of Jarrett's solipsistic traits, more original were his prayer-like exchanges with bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Joao Luis Lobo, who backed Guidi's musical meditations with abstract passages, and minimalist brush strokes, suggesting the solitude and melancholia of some futuristic landscapes. Even the final "Quizas Quizas" instead of following the warm emotional context of Nat King Cole's vocal version was stripped of its sparkly aura to essentialize its melodic frame and transform it into a more geometrical, yet nonetheless highly touching experiment.



Quintorigo featuring Eric Mingus



Documentary feature of Hendrix's interviews and Woodstock appearance accompanied Quintorigo's set dedicated to the American guitarist and legend of rock. The group's string instruments were electronically distorted, transformed into guitars and hyper- reverberated, reproducing chaotic 1970s sonorities, alternated with sudden, natural pizzicatos and bowed notes, almost to remind that they were, originally, a cello, a violin, a viola and a bass.



Their version of Hendrix's "National Anthem," in parallel with real footage of the Vietnam war, clearly felt drenched in the most contemporary pacifist movement, and the concert suddenly felt like a touching invocation for international dialogue on all levels.





Andrea Costa's vocals in "Sweet Angel" gave a softer touch to the rock 'n' roll, blasted sonorities of both strings and rhythm sections. A breathtaking section on sax counterbalanced his scat variations by fully embracing Hendrix's sonorities while at the same time exploiting the loud, athletic potentialities of his instrument. Eric Mingus powerful, blues voice, conveyed a rougher and soulful touch to Quintorigo's version of "Hey Joe."



Jon Batiste



This was a solo concert moving from stride piano classics by Jelly Roll Morton to ironic, smooth vocals, classical introductory passages quoting Brahms and Liszt, and a humorous tambourine surrounding the careful piano vibratos with a more casual atmosphere of impromptu street music.



Batiste does know well the jazz tradition, and the complexities of classical piano andanti fuoriosi, and he is not at all shy when it comes to fully showing his dexterity, with a faux-nonchalant persona.



His whispered, warm version of "Summertime," rhythmically heightened by the repetitive tambourine rhythm, was preceded by an engagingly humorous version of "New Orleans' Blues," emphasizing the boisterous and mocking phrasings of Morton's original piece. The childlike happiness of "You Are My Sunshine" followed a fast-paced "Rondo' Alla Turca" quote, surprising everyone.



Gino Paoli and Danilo Rea





Gino Paoli's unique voice and romantic lyrics have left immortal traces in the history of the Italian songbook. His duo with Danilo Rea mixed this tradition with that of top jazz piano which Rea represents.



This may be why even the most famous songs of Paoli's repertoire—such as "Sapore di sale" and "Il cielo in una stanza"—had a syncopated tinge, through Rea's inserts and contrapuntal obbligatos, which stressed actuality and empowered their romanticism.



The songs selected for this concert included other jazz standards—a mellow version of "Time After Time"—where Paoli's both smoky and delicate voice dialogued with Rea's exquisite pianissimos.



Rea's solo piano masterful arrangement of De André's "Bocca di rosa" developed around difficult, complex, Bach-sounding passages, and was followed by Paoli's vocal version of "La canzone dell'amor perduto." His vibratos heightening the excitement and melancholia of a young love ended too soon.



The playful "La gatta," with Rea's keys mimicking the cat's tip-tapping walk on the roof described in the song paved the way for a touching "Ne me quitte pas," built over loud, memorable dynamics. Ranging from Edith Piaf's masterpieces up to the Italian classic "T'aggio voluto bene," the concert was like a string of pearls, shining in perfect equilibrium.



Kurt Elling



Kurt Elling's sets have the beauty of a majestic architectural structure whose smallest details have been planned with extreme care, in order to fit together with almost organic naturalness.



In the smooth unfolding of Elling's masterful vocals and in his group's impeccable sounds one sees the smooth equilibrium which only comes when talent, passion and endless preparation come together. Yet, once on stage, what remains of this meticulous work is just Elling's warm, embracing voice, reaching surprising highs and lows from the opening of "Come Fly with Me," and a band that shines around him.



The subtle exchanges between drummer Quincy Davis and Kurt Elling on "Quizas, Quizas, Quizas," the soft bass texture created by Clark Sommers on "I'm Satisfied" and John McLean's incredibly complex guitar solo on "Estate," were just some examples of this memorable formation.



Peculiarly interesting were also the dialogue, clearly made out of a long-lasting friendship, between Elling and pianist Laurence Hogbood, especially evident in "A House is Not a Home" where Hogbood surprised everyone with a piano solo of sophisticated tenderness.



Elling's vocal style and technique made his unique vocal timbre even more remarkable by alternating softness with speedy scat passages and spiritual tones with bouncy high notes.



Top Musica Jazz 2012



The celebration of the best musicians of the year, selected by the Italian jazz magazine Musica Jazz, was a great opportunity to reveal some of the most promising talents of contemporary Italian jazz.



Pianist Enrico Zanisi, winner of the Musica Jazz best new talent prize, played with his trio— featuring bassist Francesco Ponticelli and drummer Alessandro Paternesi. Zanisi's compositions disclosed a poetic style, echoing Bill Evans sonorities with a touch of more abstract McCoy Tyner. The arrangements seemed conceived in order to highlight as well the sensitive choices of Paternesi's drumming, already visible in his collaborations with bassist Enzo Pietropaoli—and Zanesi's smart, original variations on bass.



Trombonist Mauro Ottolini (winner of the Musica Jazz prize for best musician) played a memorable set with Franco DAndrea's group (which was awarded the Musica Jazz best album of the year prize). Their music, in a way similar to their gentle presence on stage, had an ascetic quality to it that made one pay even more attention to its elegance, to the stylish choices of register, as well as the perfect blossoming of the solos throughout the performance, which closed the festival with the delicacy of a calligraphic touch.



Photo Credits:

Page 1 and 2: Adriana Mateo

Page 3 and 4: Umbria Jazz

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