You can tell you're in for no-nonsense jazz when you scan a Schema label CD because their presentation is serious and artful, even when playful. These guys know precisely how to grab the eye and get subtle and overt messages across to the consumer. The interesting thing is that someone at Schema, whomever's delegating art direction duties CD by CD, obviously knows his shit dead cold. First, glance at the image above and then skip over to the Francy Boland review (here), and you'll see what I mean. Though quite different, one from the other, not only is each image arresting but also loaded up with tractor beams and enigma. Anyone casually glancing at the items can't help but pause in stride and pick them up. Boom! Mission accomplished, and everyone concerned is benefitted: consumer, artist, and label. I say this because most musicians aren't well served by their label's promotional activities, and Alessandro Scala is one of those who must have a sympathetic timbre in visual images to signal the market that he isn't another, say, Kenny G. This is especially important because the label specializes in Italian jazz and is doing its best to illuminate the rich musical ground there ('n, hey, d'ya 'member the jazz-inflected prog bands Premiata Forneria Marconi, Pichhio dal Pazzo, Le Orme, and other 70s Italian landmarks?).
That accomplished, the CD's purchased and likely listened to in the car on the way home. This is when the hook sinks in, the disc then travels from automobile to home player, and the listener settles in for over an hour's worth of straight ahead, hard bop, fusion, West Coast, and various other flavors, not to mention a good deal of alternatingly cool and hot blowing. The base configuration's indeed a quintet but Scala made the crucial decision to broaden the richness and luster of his compositions by recruiting two sessioneers: Fabrizio Bosso on trumpet and flugelhorn and Roberto Rossi on trombone. The importance of these gents' contributions can't be overstated, and the reason is heard in the very first cut, where trio and duet melodic leads weave around each other and then cut away for Scala to take off and fly. The sudden contrast is like setting a match to tinder, flaring up immediately.
The ensemble actually occupies three distinct levels everywhere in the disc: foreground (horns), mid-ground (keyboards), and background/rhythm section (drums, bass) though keyboardist Nico Menci is given plenty of room to sit elbow to elbow with Scala and the reedsmen. Stefano Paolini's skinswork is constant, inventive, and broad, the stage and forest on and within which everyone, contrabassist Paolo Ghetti included, roams and romps. Dexter Blues is one of the superb hunting grounds in which this is displayed. The title song, however, probably best gives the backbone of the milieu, a clear example in how the mood, meter, and melody are established, whereafter improv cuts in, and Scala just roars early on in the vigorous framework, burning the chart up, Bosso's trumpet jumping in right after, inspired and sweating.
There's plenty here to satisfy both the trad jazz aficionado and those who like to leap over the edge. Scala's is a well-informed incorporation of both, thus the promo lit's emphasis on hard bop is a tad displaced - nonetheless, when he lets go, that element indeed his ready wont. What's really going on here, however, is that the sax player is re-energizing what had been becoming moribund in trad venues. In that, Nico Menci's extremely important, notably when Isola del Sole gives way to his soloing but throughout the release as well, in notes, flurries, and chords. It would be quite interesting to see what a strict quintet configuration would yield…but I'm not so sure I want to encourage that quite yet, as Viaggo Stellare is seductively wrought, leaving the listener eager for more.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
Website design by David N. Pyles