With all the lamentation about the state of jazz today, here are three albums that make it clear that if jazz is on its way to the emergency room in some places, in Italy it’s alive and well.
Every so often, sometimes with a touch of an Italian accent, you can hear hints of Frank Sinatra in the phrasing of vocalist Andrea Balducci, but more often than not he tries to make his own musical mark. Still, it is hard to break away from your influences. It is clear from his Schema album, Bloom, Balducci has been listening to Sinatra and his ilk. Tunes like “Big City” and “Everytime We Say Goodbye” smack of Old Blue Eyes. On the other hand when he takes on songs like “The Letter” and “Spooky” he seems more himself.
He is working with a quality ensemble of musicians. There is some fine solo work interspersed among the vocals from trumpeter Jukka Eskola and alto saxophonist Gaetano Partipilo. This is a group that can swing.
Gaetano Partipilo – Besides—Songs From the Sixties
Partipilo leads a basic sextet with a long list of guest performers through a set of 14 tunes from back in the day arranged with an eye for the modern audience. The set includes songs written by Partipilo, often in collaboration with the guest artist, as well as a number of well-known jazz pieces. Of the Partipilo originals, “Beyond the Days” and “Moon Flower” stand out. They were written with Alice Ricciardi, who adds her lovely voice to the tracks. “Wall and Water,” an instrumental, also stand out.
The album includes Herbie Mann’s “Right Now,” “Autumn Serenade” (probably best known from the recording by Johnny Hartman and John Coltrane), and Gary McFarland’s “13—Death March.” They also do an interesting job on Nat Adderley’s “The Jive Samba” with a vocal by Mr. Natural. They conclude with brother Cannonball’s jumper, “The Sticks” and a lot of fine solo work from pianist Pietro Lussu, guest trumpeter Fabrizio Bosso, and Partipilo himself on sax. Bosso also does some fine work on Partipilo and Heidi Vogel’s “Ocean Dance.” Vogel does the vocal.
All in all the album is an entertaining compendium of straight-ahead jazz with a happy emphasis on comfortable Latin rhythms.
Viaggio Stellare, which I am told means stellar travel, is less a spacey jazz journey than it is a hard bop exploration in the best traditions of that genre. Saxophonist Scala supplements his base quartet—Nico Menci (piano, Rhodes, and Wurlitzer), Paulo Ghetti (double bass) and Stefano Paolini (drums)—with trumpeter Fabrizio Bosso and trombonist Roberto Rossi. Of the album’s 11 tracks, 10 are Scala compositions, including two versions of “Dexter Blues.” One is by bassist Ghetti. It is a set of tunes dynamically varied and a joy to listen to.
Choosing highlights is difficult; the album is a set of highlights. There is something special about every track, whether it be Bosso’s “Flight of the Bumblebee”-like turn on the title song or Menci’s piano work on “Easy Song,” Paolini’s drum solo on “Dexter Blue,” or Scala’s soprano sax on “Sognare Ad Occhi Aperti.” The trouble is that singling these few out gives short shrift to all the other excellent solos in these songs, and the seven others on the album.
Viaggio Stellare is jazz that, when heard, is easily appreciated. “Lemon Funk,” “Jazz Club,” “My Sound,” there isn’t a tune on the album that won’t have you smiling.[amazon template=iframe image&chan=default&asin=B009MW38EC,B00B9TL74O,B00I7PU12C]