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New Century, Same Genius: Ornette Coleman at JVC

Enrico Pieranunzi

By any standard, the six-night event billed as “Top Italian Jazz,” a collaboration of the Umbria Jazz Festival organization and the Italian Cultural Institute of New York was a high-class affair. There was an elegant reception at the Guggenheim with music by pianist Danilo Rea and Umbrian wine and hors d’oeuvres. (Attendees had the after-hours museum to themselves, and could climb to all six levels of the Guggenheim’s famous rotunda to view the sculptures of a major exhibition, the David Smith Centennial.) At Birdland, there was chef Claudio Brugalossi, who was brought in from Umbria. His creations, such as panzanella con gamberi di fiume, and suprema di pollo ripiena di salsiccia e rapi, supplemented the regular Birdland menu. There were the crowds that filled Birdland, more continental and better dressed than usual, and there was electricity in the air, because this mini-festival had been well-promoted and much-anticipated.

And oh yes, there was the music. Enrico Rava, Italy’s best-known jazz musician, was there with his working quintet, featuring a trombone phenom about whom there is a buzz on the international jazz street, Gianluca Petrella. And speaking of phenoms and buzzes, it is safe to assume that, on Saturday and Sunday, the final two nights, most of the audience was there to find out whether what they had heard about Francesco Cafiso could possibly be true. Did this rosy-cheeked 16-year-old really amble onto the stage, smile sweetly, put his alto saxophone to his lips, and unfurl bolts of bebop, of a velocity and vastness that has not been heard for 50 years, since the passing of the player for whom Birdland is named? (The short answer is yes. Please read on.)

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