Italian saxophonist Stefano Ferrian and pianist Simone Quatrana are both members of a ‘no leader’ quintet RARA AVIS, which also features saxophonist Ken Vandermark and SEC_ (Revox and sound treatments). That group’s album Mutations / Multicellulars Mutations (dEN) was one of the highlights of 2013.
Two new albums on Ferrian’s dEN label feature Ferrian and Quatrana playing as a duo and as members of Ferrian’s quintet Nutimbre.
On the duo album, A-SEPTiC (dENk(ontemporary) serie), Ferrian plays mostly in short, chewy phrases against Quatrana’s concise but tenacious dissections of pattern and rhythm. The pianist’s angularity, and his reliance on counterpoint and expansive harmonics all suggest Matthew Shipp as a possible influence.
The two shortest pieces, “Disharmonic Evolution” (1:23) and “The Moss” (2:51) typify the whole. The former is dynamic and tersely energising, the latter more jagged and patiently analytical. “The Sound Dome” is also typical, with Ferrian patterning short, gruff phrases over Quatrana’s implacable ostinatos.
The album was recorded at the pianist’s home studio, and achieves a lovely balance between relaxedness and tension borne of focus across seven succinct improvisations: sleeve notes promise “no overdubs or editing on this recording.”
Of the four longer pieces, Ferrian pries “A Space-Time Framework” open with some inquisitively bent notes, after which sudden flashes of alto lucidity twist out of otherwise woozy phrasemaking, reminding me of Ornette Coleman’s suitably narcotic phrasing on the Naked Lunch soundtrack. Quatrana reacts, initially, by dropping isolated figures, but then changes the mood with dynamic counterpoint: fast, repeat figures in the piano’s low register contrasting with loose right-hand expressivity.
The duo explore another dynamic on “Mater(ico)”, on which Quatrana plays sparingly, maximising reverberation and rubbing on the piano’s harp while Ferrian executes a well-spaced series of variations on a melodic notion. The pianist then becomes agitative, setting up a tense, thrumming vamp around which Ferrian curls phrases and spin-off licks. Later they get into a kind of call-and-response, until Quatrana’s notes elide and cascade.
There’s a healthy tension at play here. Even at his most lyrical, as on the standout “Remini | Science” (10:54)—which subtly echoes “The Way We Were“—Quatrana slips easily into focused and insistent pattern-making, forcing Ferrian to follow suit, navigating between tenderly expressive and analytically probing modes.
The duo’s temperance of conceptual formality with emotional expressivity is most brilliantly realised on “A Globe Into Sound” (11:12), which ebbs and flows between sensitivities.
Ferrian and Quatrana also begin “The Opening”, the first piece on the new Nutimbre album Cycles (dEN) with a short duo intro. Quatrana immediately sounds different – he’s playing an ‘electro-acoustic’ piano, which has an intriguing tonal range (here there’s a touch of the harpsichord about it, but mostly it just sounds like a piano). And then the full group come in with emphasis.
The first Nutimbre album, Risk (dEN), was all-acoustic, and a rather conservative affair. Here bassist Luca Pissavini plays electric double bass, still sounding it with the pliancy of its acoustic equivalent, but nonetheless more chewily emphatic, and drummer Fabrizio Carriero matches that muscularity with freely embellished backbeats.
Ferrian is restricted to alto and paired closely with trumpeter Vito Emanuele Galante, whose sound suggests amplification, despite being acoustic.
Sleeve notes by Ferrian explain that this work was inspired by ‘cycles’ both as in the context of graph theory, which perhaps relates to notation, and “on a purely musical level,” since “rhythm, harmony, dynamics, scales, pitch, structures and so on are all based on cycles even if you try to play in the freer way possible.”
The resultant songbook is knottily contrapuntal. Never more so than on “Sharp Colors”, which has a turbulent dynamism mostly stoked by Quatrana, though Galante also burns brightly. It’s teeming with detail, but there’s always a sense that the group is tightly organised, and the final resolution conducted by Ferrian is brief and to the point.
Pissavini plays some acoustic-textured contrabass on the intro to “Closed Walk”, but he’s emphatically plugged in by the time the group settles into a progression founded on a staccato, funkified bass lope that’s married to M-Base style sax/trumpet unison phrases, all bolstered by kick drums. Quatrana, the only one not locked in, exercises his freedom.
The album’s title track takes the embrace of constrained freedom to its logical limit. After an intro where the quintet explore interlocking melodies there’s an interval in which Ferrian questions Quatrana’s cyclical melodicism, and another passage where Ferrian and Galante interweave and breakout solo over dogged piano/bass/drums, but everything happens within the dogged, almost bullish insistence of the composition’s cyclical embrace.
“Ziggy Epilepsie” is a title that promises a breakdown, and delivers. While Ferrian mulls over some melodic ideas, Quatrana plays some delicate preparations and Pissavini wrests sympathetic textures from his bass strings. Galante, meanwhile, is rooting around, truffling for inspiration and provoking Ferrian to elaborate. After a couple of minutes there’s a brief lull, then the quintet unexpectedly restarts in unison with an explicit collective swing. Ferrian, Quatrana and Galante all get solo space as this overtly ‘jazzy’ feel is subsequently broken down and disintegrates, only to return, briefly, at the close.
These are both fine examples of jazz with a distinctively European contemporary urban vibe.
On A-SEPTiC: Stefano Ferrian alto and tenor saxophones; Simone Quatrana piano.
On Cycles: Stefano Ferrian alto saxophone; Vito Emanuele Galante trumpet; Simone Quatrana electro-acoustic piano; Luca Pissavini electric double bass; Fabrizio Carriero drums.
WhyOakTreeOh – Here Nor There + Nicola Lancerotti Quartet – Skin + Stefano Ferrian de-NOIZE – #2 Lophophora (dEN Records label roundup part 2).
RARA AVIS – Mutations / Multicellulars Mutations + DKV Trio – Past Present.
Buy Cycles and A-SEPTiC direct from dEN.