Ab Baars, Ken Vandermark, Paal Nilssen-Love Double Tandem – OX + Massimo Minardi – Lost Copyright + Raw Frame – Krakovia (dEN Records label roundup part 1)

OXLostCopyrightKrakoviadEN released one of last year’s stand-out albums in the shape of Mats Gustafsson, John Russell, and Raymond Strid’s Birds. Although not stylistically representative of the main thrust of the Italian label’s catalogue—which focuses on a refined strain of European jazz that’s distinctly contemporary, yet still working through the potentialities of tonal bebop and the influence of modern classical idioms—it’s certainly representative of its quality.

The three albums reviewed in this post were all issued late last year. Two more recent titles are considered, alongside a short review of label boss Stefano Ferrian‘s experimental post-rock project dE-NOIZE in part two of this roundup.

OX is a live album by the Double Tandem group, which comprises Ken Vandermark, Ab Baars and Paal Nilssen-Love. It is, like Birds, atypical for dEN, but again it represents something of a coup for the label.

The American/Dutch/Norwegian trio was recorded in concert during the Perugian Novara Jazz Winter Session in April 2011. Their performance, in three expansive movements, has the structural cogency of a decent symphony, and all the expressive subtlety of a chamber ensemble.

The dynamic between Vandermark and Nilssen-Love is quite different here to their established duo. The drummer assumes a more supportive role, albeit remaining potently dynamic throughout, and many of the set’s highlights come in exchanges of surprisingly courtly tenderness between the dual reed players.

Vandermark likewise refrains from exercising his predilections for impro-filtred funk and R&B, in order to complement Baars pared-back melodicism. Still, there’s a muscularity to his saxophone playing that twines in sinuous grace with Baars’ more melancholic clarinet. And, inevitably, Nilssen-Love’s restraint leads to an accumulation of highly volatile dynamic energy, which finds its release in combustive flashpoints of controlled tension-release.

Beautifully recorded, OX is pretty damn essential.

Massimo Minardi is a Milanese guitarist. His (H)ope’N Space 5tet is completed by Dimitri Grechi Espinoza (saxophone, voice, piano), Luca Calabrese (trumpet), Stefano Solani (doublebass) and Filippo Monico (drums). The group takes its name from a 2002 album recorded by a longstanding trio of Minardi’s, but neither of its other members are involved here.

Beginning with the Dolphy-esque “The Rhythm is Changed”, and ending with “The End of Delirium (Requiem)”, which has a woozy sense of funerial dislocation that’s reminiscent of a late 80s/early 90s Ornette Coleman dirge, Lost Copyright is a subtly strange proposition.

Minardi’s past experience has included collaborations with Latin-American and Brazillian musicians, and no doubt this informs the slinky, self-descriptive “Mexicopatico”, which features some of the album’s most quirky ingredients: slurry sax, plinking piano, louche percussion, and a vocal sound rather like someone choking on a kazoo. Contrast this with the modal clarity of “Cartooons”, and you have some idea of the quintet’s range.

Elsewhere, there’s a spartan busyness to the blend of acoustic guitar and bass, Jew’s harp and plangent trumpet on the intro to “Improvable 1: Andalusian Part”, leading to a resolution in which Calabrese, Minardi and Monico combine much as Dave Douglas might with Eugene Chadbourne and Jimmy Carl Black; the understated “Improvable 2: Lost Copyright” is seriously lovely; and “Improvable 3: The Remedy” combines Minardi’s classically-styled acoustic guitar with percussive, col legno bass in thrumming, increasingly agitated intensity.

The dichotomously playful elegance of this music marks it out, I suspect, as distinctively Italian. As far as I’m aware, there’s no-one making music quite like this in either Britain or America.

Raw Frame is another group—in this case, a trio—fronted by a guitarist. On Krakovia, Andrea Bolzoni’s electric lead combines with Salvatore Satta’s electric bass and Daniele Frati’s drums in music that offers a luminous, sometimes airy counterpoint to the post-prog bluster of much contemporary power jazz.

Frati writes the lion’s share of the trio’s songbook, with Bolzoni also contributing. The brittle percussive skitter and cymbal froth of Frati’s kit percussion animates Bolzoni’s attack, which marries the clarity of Bill Frisell—when stripped of the vibe of sustain FX—to the bite of Marc Ribot. Ribot is the truer comparison, but Where the New Yorker has a taste for Ayler-esque blues inflections and Quine-style spikiness, Bolzoni—here, at least—prefers airy separation and bright harmonics.

The guitarist’s rapport with his rhythm team is wonderfully eurythmic. The drummer is always busy, the bassist responsive and tuneful, the latter carrying both the pulse and the melody on “Special” while his partners mix fretboard frottage with percussive bustle.

The album ends with an upbeat brace of compositions. The bounce of Bolzoni’s “Looking” reminds me every time of Cypress Hill’s “I Ain’t Going Out Like That”, although the comparison must end there. The track is animated throughout by the subtlest of rock dynamics. The finale is a version of Mingus’ “Better Git it in Your Soul”, the bassist’s role as if recast for Charlie Haden or Scot LaFaro.

Bolzoni is a young player who on other contemporary recordings extends his palette with live loops and electronics. But his pared-down approach on Krakovia suits the cool, incisive intelligence that marks dEN’s emerging house style, as witnessed on its latest releases. These—albums by Anglo-Hungarian trio WhyOakTreeOh and the Brussels-based Nicola Lancerotti Quartet—will be reviewed in part two of this roundup.

Related Post
Mats Gustafsson, John Russell, Raymond Strid – Birds + Colin Stetson and Mats Gustafsson – Stones
dEN Records label roundup part 2: WhyOakTreeOh – Here Nor There + Nicola Lancerotti Quartet – Skin + Stefano Ferrian de-NOIZE – #2 Lophophora

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