Jazz

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music Reviews - Eric My­ers Tony Hil­lier

Trip Mike Stern Heads Up In­ter­na­tional This al­bum from vet­eran Amer­i­can gui­tarist Mike Stern is the first since his ac­ci­dent last year when he tripped out­side his Man­hat­tan apart­ment (hence the title), broke both his arms and suf­fered nerve dam­age to his right hand. Sub­se­quent surgery was only partly suc­cess­ful, in that Stern ap­par­ently needs glue to grip his pick. Still, his ex­tra­or­di­nary tech­ni­cal fa­cil­ity is in­tact. He came to no­tice as a mem­ber of Miles Davis’s “come­back” band in 1981, when the great trum­peter ap­peared at the Kool Jazz Festival in New York af­ter a five-year sab­bat­i­cal. A fu­sion mas­ter, Stern shows in his 11 orig­i­nal com­po­si­tions that he has lost none of his abil­ity to cre­ate a storm in the high-en­ergy rock ve­hi­cles that are an im­por­tant part of this al­bum. But if the music here were lim­ited to what has been de­scribed as his “scorched-earth dis­tor­tion-laced licks”, Trip would be very oned­i­men­sional. Now 64, Stern en­livens the al­bum with laid-back tunes, fea­tur­ing un­der­state­ment and sim­ple lyri­cism. Take, for ex­am­ple, Emilia and I Be­lieve You, on which his wife, Leni Stern — a distin­guished gui­tarist with her own in­ter­na­tional ca­reer — plays ghoni, an in­stru­ment from Mali. These lovely tunes re­ward re­peated lis­ten­ings. All com­po­si­tions fea­ture a small group en­livened by one or two su­perb guest play­ers: trum­peters Randy Brecker and Wal­lace Roney; tenor sax­o­phon­ists Bob Frances­chini and Bill Evans (the lat­ter another Miles Davis alum­nus from 1981); and great drum­mers in­clud­ing Re­turn to For­ever’s Lenny White, and Dennis Cham­bers. There are other guests, too nu­mer­ous to men­tion. Fi­nally, Stern’s com­po­si­tions are uni­formly clever and catchy, ve­hi­cles not only for high-en­ergy jaz­zrock fu­sion but also for straight-ahead ro­bustly swing­ing tunes in four. Vet­eran col­lec­tives Can­zoniere Gre­canico Salentino and Of­fic­ina Zoe have done much to pop­u­larise taran­tella and drag the fren­zied folk dance music of south­ern Italy into the 21st cen­tury. Diver­gent new al­bums from the genre’s flag-bear­ers should pro­mote fur­ther in­ter­est in the trance­like an­ces­tral pizzica taran­tata rhythms that, as lo­cal lore has it, con­sti­tute the an­ti­dote to taran­tula bites. The will­ing­ness of these en­dur­ing bands to stretch the bound­aries of the tra­di­tional music has been ad­mirable. Al­though Of­fic­ina Zoe, formed in 1993, pours punk in­ten­sity and south­ern Ital­ian pas­sion into its pieces on Live in In­dia, it is the se­nior band’s Can­zoniere that adopts a more ad­ven­tur­ous ap­proach. CGS’s 19th long-player, part-recorded in New York, has con­tem­po­rary edge. That’s a legacy of col­lab­o­rat­ing with Amer­i­can and Euro­pean song­writ­ers who have worked with the likes of Bruno Mars, Steely Dan, Sting and Cold­play, and of blend­ing stan­dard taran­tella in­stru­men­ta­tion of tam­bourines, tam­bu­rello frame drums, vi­o­lin and ac­cor­dion with elec­tric gui­tars and pro­gram­ming. Pizzica De Sira and In­tra La Danza come clos­est to con­ven­tional taran­tella, though Lu Gius­ta­co­fane is re­port­edly based on an ethno­graphic field record­ing. Else­where, the trad in­flu­ence is more tacit than tan­gi­ble. In Quannu Te Vis­ciu, a spo­ken-word loop pro­vides the trance el­e­ment. Cameos from gun English gui­tarist Justin Adams and Amer­i­can trum­peter Michael Leon­hart are re­spec­tive add-ons to Aiora and Iento. Another guest, Piers Fac­cini, takes sul­try lead vo­cals in Sub­bra Sutta, a song that style-wise links south­ern Italy with south In­dia. There are no man­i­fes­ta­tions of sub­con­ti­nen­tal in­flu­ence or in­deed any cross-cul­tural pol­li­na­tion in Of­fic­ina Zoe’s Live in In­dia, an al­bum recorded in Mum­bai, Delhi, Jaipur, Udaipur and Ban­ga­lore. While its last re­lease was an am­bi­ent con­cept al­bum based on the Mediter­ranean Sea, this al­bum — a com­pan­ion work to 2007 set Live in Japan — packs plenty of pizzica punch, pro­tracted pas­sages fea­tur­ing in­tense acous­tic play­ing from the band and sear­ing singing from Of­fic­ina Zoe’s ex­tra­or­di­nary lead vo­cal­ist, Cinzia Marzo. The 14-minute cen­tre­piece, Mamma Sirena, is a be­witch­ing epic that gen­er­ates enough en­ergy to fuel a nu­clear plant. Clock­ing in at close to nine min­utes, Cu Li Sus­piri, and the eight min­utes of Don Pizzica, driven by ac­cor­dion and fid­dle locked in tan­dem with triple-time tam­bourines and pound­ing tam­bu­rel­los, are equally mes­meris­ing. Even num­bers that start quite se­dately, such as Santu Paulo, wind up as fre­netic trance dances.

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