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July/August 1999

Various Artists
Italian Instable Festival
Leo Records

The Italian jazz scene has produced numerous world class musicians since the '60s, but the North American jazz establishment's knowledge of it, for the most part, begins and ends with Enrico Rava. The Italians began comparable investigations into freely improvised music contemporaneously to more press-hyped movements in England, Holland, and Germany; odds are, however, that the enthusiast who recognizes an Evan Parker solo in a nanosecond would be dumbfounded when confronted with a disc by pioneering altoist Mario Schiano. That is why the 2-disc Italian Instabile Festival is such an essential recording; it is the audio equivalent of a Berlitz immersion course, from which the listener emerges with a functional literacy in a rich jazz dialect.

The design of the album is simple; use tracks by the Italian Instabile Orchestra, a veritable national all-star aggregation, as cornerstones, and fill in with performances with a mix of small groups configured from its ranks. The seven performances by the full orchestra run the gamut from the bop-tinged fireworks of reed player Gianluigi Trovesi's "Scarlattina" to the dramatic sweep of multi-instrumentalist Renato Geremia's "Ballata." In addition to their engaging ensembles, composers like trombonist Giancarlo Schiaffini and reed player Carlo Actis Dato deftly incorporate wide ranging improvisational strategies within their compositions. Even though they comprised less than half of the performances, the full orchestra tracks confirm IIO as a world-class composers' forum.

Still, the small group tracks are more than ample evidence that the IIO is also brimming with exceptional improvisers. Among the highlights: a playful trumpet duel between Rava and Pino Minafra; Trovesi's folksy, Giuffresque clarinet in duo with bassist Paolo Damiani; a lyrical impromptu by trumpeter Guido Mazzon and pianist Umberto Petrin; and a flowing, richly textured improvisation by Gruppo Romano Free Jazz (Schiano, Schiaffini, and bassist Bruno Tammaso). In the course of the two-discs, all nineteen musicians are featured, and they all pull their own weight. How many other orchestras have met this standard on disc recently?

Originally published in July/August 1999
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