Somewhere I have Never Travelled

Three items from the Italian label We Insist! Records, a home for contemporary European jazz.

Andrea Grossi Blend 3 play competent but rather ordinary jazz songs on Songs And Poems (CDWEIN19), joined by the vocalist Beatrice Arrigoni. The sound of the record is fine, even if it often reminds us of certain 1970s recordings, specifically Carla Bley records. The project doesn’t lack for ambition (an impression you’ll certainly get from reading the enthused press note); the texts (sung, spoken, or a bit of both) are derived from the poetry of American scribes Emily Dickinson and e.e. cummings, both favourites who have attracted something of a devoted following over the years and both worthy of being regarded as highly original talents and great innovators, changing our ideas of what constitutes poetry in the first place. Strong material to use as one’s source, but Grossi and his crew don’t work hard enough to convey the core meanings of the poems they tackle. Arrigoni’s voice is distinctive though, and the listener must decide if her tones match the inner voice of such a wayward and intrepid explorer as Dickinson. Ultimately, the playing feels precious and mannered, lacking in real fire or spirit. Even the chaotic moments are very contrived. (27/05/2022)

Unfolding To Be You (CDWEIN18) is Sebi Tramontana’s solo ‘bone and vox record. This Italian player is aiming at a clownish, humourous vibe, explicitly declaring that he wishes to make the instrument talk and laugh. In assessing his achievement, the press notes draws parallels with African musical traditions, and the use of the trombone in serious-minded European improvisation, but (unlike say the English player Paul Rutherford) Tramontana has chosen the wacky path. This strategy feels too ingratiating to me, but the creator insists his pieces here stand as “self-portraits”. On the plus side, there are a lot of unusual effects being deployed, including whistling, coughing, chuckling, wordless vocalising, and such like. I’m just not convinced he’s succeeded in developing a personal musical language, nor has he taken it very far. (27/05/2022)

Girotondo (CDWEIN17) is a jazz-ish composition played by the Enrico Fazio Ensemble. Its structural form is based on a “relay” of musical dialogues, thus imitating the famed Schnitzler play Reigen. Not bad actually; more like chamber music than jazz. Composer Enrico Fazio has thought long and hard about the choice of instruments, and the clever structures that allow him to deploy various pairings of the voices; the end result is done in a rather intriguing schematic way, based on such considerations as musical themes, individual notes, and repetitions. He doesn’t manage to develop characters, or tell a story, but he might not be aiming to do that. Reigen, and the relay form, appear to be more of a hook on which to hang his compositional shapes. The project is aided enormously by the very able and fluent players in the Ensemble, especially the woodwind section. Considering Girotondo is all about “meetings” (a musical form of speed dating, perhaps), perhaps we might have hoped for a little more intrigue, or tension, or surprise; instead, a sad and defeated air lingers. In fact that melancholy mood might be the only emotional register on offer, although ‘Il marito e la donna galante’ is jaunty. (27/05/2022)