Everything you always wanted to know – or almost – about Italian jazz but were afraid to ask. From the west coast sound of Gianni Basso and Oscar Valdambrini, to the adventures of Enrico Pieranunzi at the Village Vanguard, passing through the abundant seventies of Enrico Rava and the fusion of Perigeo, this selection – certainly incomplete, which has deliberately put aside a few pioneers whose records are now unobtainable – offers a broad view of the extraordinary diversity of an Italian scene, whose protagonists often have nothing to envy to American musicians, as the skinned alive Massimo was able to prove Urbani.
10 essential Italian jazz albums:
Mythical club of the 7and Avenue, in New York, the Village Vanguard has seen on its stage a large part of the history of jazz. But the musician with whom this place is still most associated today is none other than Bill Evans who, in 1961, recorded alongside Paul Motian and Scott LaFaro, the unforgettable Sunday at the Village Vanguard. Fifty years later, it is therefore under the aegis of the most romantic of pianists that Enrico Pieranunzi called on the same Paul Motian, in the winter of his life, and on Marc Johnson, the last double bass player of the Evans trio . Live at the Village Vanguard is the most beautiful album by this Roman virtuoso, whose career began accompanying the trumpeters Art Farmer and Chet Baker, and who today stands out as one of the most respected Italian musicians throughout the world. Live at the Village Vanguard (Cam Jazz/2012).
As you will have understood, it is impossible to approach Italian jazz without mentioning the name of Enrico Rava several times. Here is our trumpeter again for his first album with ECM, and one of the most breathtaking of his rich and brilliant discography: The Pilgrim and the Stars. We are in 1975, at the heart of a protean decade, that of the electric revolution, fusion, spiritual jazz, and the advent of European jazz. It is at the crossroads of all this music that Rava is located, who, at 36, is already playing in the court of the – very – great with Palle Danielsson and Jon Christensen (musicians of Keith Jarrett’s quartet), as well as the luminary of American guitarist John Abercrombie. The Pilgrim and the Stars (ECM/1975).
Stefano Di Battista
It was under the influence of Massimo Urbani, and therefore of Charlie Parker, that Stefano Di Battista began his career as a saxophonist. Revealed later on the French stages, it was in Paris, in the 90s, that he established himself as one of the most dazzling violists of his generation. This was quickly noticed by the legendary Blue Note label, for which he signed a series of five discs. Among them, Parker’s Mood, which, as its name suggests, is a tribute to Bird, remains his most successful album. Everything is elegance, virtuosity and fluidity, both on the frenzied tempos and on the ballads. And this, in part thanks to the rhythm section composed of the giant Kenny Barron on piano, Herlin Riley on drums and the exuberant Rosario Bonaccorso on double bass. A timeless album. Parker’s Mood (Blue Note/2004).
The Italian Charlie Parker. This is how Massimo Urbani is regularly portrayed, a prodigious saxophonist who, like his idol, Bird, was a virtuoso whose excesses burned his wings too soon (at 36). Born in 1957 in Rome, Massimo naturally established himself, from the end of the 1970s, as one of the country’s essential musicians, and one of the greatest boppers in the world. Recorded in 1979 with a high-flying American rhythm section, 360° Aeutopia is an album imbued with an implacable Parkerian ardor offering a glimpse of the immense talent of this violist who still remains, almost thirty years after his death, an influence of foreground for the younger generations of Italian jazzmen. 360° Aeutopia (Red Records/1994).
The playing of pianist Franco D’Andrea has often been compared to that of Lennie Tristano in his ability to develop a rigorous jazz, of great finesse, while displaying an extraordinary harmonic freedom. A music sometimes difficult to access, because always adventurous. A specialist in three-player games, he created the Modern Art Trio in 1968, before adopting another role in the 1970s, that of jazz-rock keyboardist with the group Perigeo. Regular collaborator of Enrico Rava as of Lee Konitz (which brings him even closer to Tristano), D’Andrea is one of the Italian pianists most admired by his peers. We find him on this 1989 disc in the company of the most French of the peninsula’s drummers, Aldo Romano, for a repertoire that seems to be a perfect gateway into his musical universe. Volta (Owl Records/1989).
Italian Songs is by far, and as its name suggests, the most Italian of all the albums in this selection. A recording on which tenor saxophonist Pietro Tonolo offers a sublime version of Think about you, by Lucio Battisti, E la chiamano estateBruno Martino, or even Metti una sera a cena, by Ennio Morricone. One could have imagined that, for such a record, Tonolo surrounds himself with compatriots with whom he shares these delicate madeleines. However, it is in the company of Joe Chambers (brilliant drummer for Wayne Shorter, Archie Shepp, Bobby Hutcherson…), accordionist and pianist Gil Goldstein, and double bassist Essiet Okun Essiet that the Milanese, usually a subscriber to the hard- bop, revisits these popular songs, almost always succeeding in sublimating them. Italian Songs (Egea/2005).
All over the world, the 70s saw the emergence of a fusion scene, an electrified jazz imbued with rock and funk, under the influence of Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, or even Weather Report. In Italy, the great group of this decade is undoubtedly Perigeo, whose album The Valle dei Templi remains a reference still quoted today by the new generations of instrumentalists. Music that evokes both the prog-rock of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and the minimalism of Steve Reich. Among the musicians, there are a few avant-gardists from the Italian scene, like the pianist Franco D’Andrea or the breath-taking Claudio Fasoli. A disc which has nothing to envy to the American production of this same period. The Valle dei Templi (RCA/1975).
There is something of Jeanne Lee in Tiziana Ghiglioni, sublime vocalist who made her recording debut in 1981 under the influence of Ornette Coleman with Lonely Woman. At least that’s what this later disc, released in 1991, suggests. I’ll Be Around, a musical dialogue she maintains with pianist Mal Waldron and trumpeter Enrico Rava. A threesome for a pinnacle of elegance, a repertoire in homage to Billie Holiday at the heart of which the silences take on as much importance as the notes, all distilled with extreme refinement. Rava’s breath takes on Miles accents, Mal Waldron develops a game of deep melancholy, of infinite beauty. And above vogue Tiziana, quite simply one of the greatest voices of European jazz. I’ll Be Around (Soul Note/1991).
Almost everyone in Italy knows Paolo Fresu. Prodigious trumpet player, artistic director of a festival in the heights of his native Sardinia, producer of the Tùk Music label and public man who knows how to speak in the ear of politicians… In short, a hyperactive and all-terrain musician, as his discography attests. having started in the mid-80s. It is precisely in the first decade of his career that this best-of is interested, which draws on live and studio recordings, in particular in excellent company with his elders Gianluigi Trovesi and Dave Liebman. The opportunity to remember, too, that his musical vocabulary is very rich, and that Paolo Fresu is not content to be an Italian Miles Davis, as the press has often summarized him. Berchidda. The Italian Years (Iris/1999).
Quintetto Basso Valdambrini
The pinnacle of 1960s jazz in Italy is often summed up in this association: Gianni Basso and Oscar Valdambrini. The first, a tenor saxophonist, crazy about Stan Getz, was born in Asti in 1931 and established himself at the end of the 1940s. The second, a trumpet player, born in Turin in 1924, started out as an orchestral musician before meeting Basso in 1954 and to form the Italian Sextet: the start of one of the most fruitful collaborations in European jazz. their album Walking in the Night could come straight from the West Coast of the United States: a must of cool jazz, Stan Getz style, and perhaps even more Gerry Mulligan in the art of orchestration and arrangement. Walking in the Night (RCA-Victor/1960).