May 1997

Return to Zero Featuring Gary Bartz & Harvie Swartz
Stairway to Heaven
MM

Italians play jazz the way they live life: with a certain selfless politeness, suavity and grace, a conservatism that defies chance-taking. Such a modus jocendi is likely to strike American jazz fans as excessively laid-back, lacking in urgency and focus, and-heaven forbid!-swinging listlessly. This session, recorded in Rome (11/94), was produced by pianist/composer Marco Omicini; the three octet tracks at its center kind of lope along amiably with little energy, dynamic range, or any real peaks and valleys.
Indeed, American bassist Harvie Swartz gives the date a bit of oomph and keeps the rockish drummers pretty near the beat. Gary Bartz, too, plays his alto sax considerably more deferentially than on his own gracious dates of late: easing into the groove, meeting the band halfway, giving as good as he gets from host altoist Sandro Satta. Trumpeter Claudio Corvini plays with a dash of pepper and livens the space around him. Omicini's originals are just fair, lacking in melodic definition: a modal waltz, "Quarmete," sounds a bit like "Little Sunflower," but then again so does "Syracuse." The whole-tone "Kilburn" pounces messily, and "La Casa di Thea" stomps to little avail. Yes, Led Zeppelin fans, the title tune is their classic-done as a poky ballad.
The date ends with a duet medley by the Yanks, and begins with a solo chorus by Bartz of a Burton Lane classic he'd quoted at the end of the duo. Nice touch! Recording is muffled and shy. Italian jazz may often seem peaked and wan to we hyperactive, overachieving Americans, but you gotta love the lifestyle!

Originally published in May 1997
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