Orchestra Jazz Siciliana: Plays The Music Of Carla Bley (XtraWATT/4)

OJC

Orchestra Jazz Siciliana
Plays The Music Of Carla Bley

Nico Riina, Massimo Greco, Pietro Pedone, Faro Riina, Giovanni Guttilla trumpets
Salvatore Pizzo, Salvatore Pizzurro trombones
Maurizio Persia bass trombone
Orazio Maugeri alto saxophone
Claudio Montalbano alto and soprano saxophones
Stefano D’Anna tenor saxophone
Alessandro Palacino tenor and soprano saxophones
Antonio Pedone baritone saxophone
Ignazio Garsia piano
Pino Greco guitar
Paolo Mappa drums
Sergio Cammalleri percussion
Guest artists:
Gary Valente trombone
Steve Swallow bass
Recorded direct to 2-track Digital Audio Tape at Brass Group Jazz Club and in concert at Teatro Metropolitan, Palermo, Sicily, May 11-16, 1989
Recording engineer: Lillo Sorrentino, assisted by Pino Passalacqua
Post-production by Steve Swallow and Carla Bley, November 1989, at Grog Kill Studio, Willow, New York
Engineer: Tom Mark
Mastered by Greg Calbi at Sterling Sound, New York, NY
General Co-ordination: Michael Mantler
Executive producer: Ignazio Garsia
Release date: October 1, 1990

Interpretations of a jazz composer as highly respected as Carla Bley can proceed one of (at least) two ways: either as springboard for idiosyncratic adlibbing and personal expression or as opportunity for an adoring homage. In the case of this recording by the Orchestra Jazz Siciliana under the direction of Bley herself, we get an instance of the latter. Each of these pieces has been re-orchestrated for big band by Jeff Friedman from their original versions and, with the exception of “Egyptian,” will be familiar to those who’ve kept an ear planted in her robust discography.

The sizable Italian ensemble, joined by special guests Gary Valente on trombone and Steve Swallow on bass, hits a line drive right off the bat with “440” by virtue of a faster pitch compared to its first appearance on record. Artisanal textures keep the melodic strengths of Bley’s writing front and center, while selective solos from altoist Orazio Maugeri and Valente serve to emphasize the smoothness of the undercurrent at hand. This gives way to the blues in “The Lone Arranger.” For this version, the banter is delivered (even by Bley herself) in Italian, making it a delightful standout. All of which feels like a grand prelude to the centerpiece: “Dreams So Real.” The present arrangement, compared to its siblings, is probably the most divergent from its source. With oodles of soul to reckon with, Valente’s trombone blasting across the airwaves with conviction, it evokes the title with gusto, and all of it framed by the beauty of guitarist Pino Greco.

The album’s remainder is taken from a May 1989 live recording at Teatro Metropolitan in Palermo. A tasteful reverb lifts the sound closer to the stratosphere, where some of the soloists like to spend their time. If Valente was the star of the first half (though one can hardly bat an eyelash at his solo in “Baby Baby”), this second half extols the wonders of tenor virtuoso Stefano D’Anna, whose backbone heightens the flexibility of such tunes as “Joyful Noise” and the outlying “Egyptian,” which lights Orientalism like a fuse and watches it explode with glee. In closing, we get hit with the cinematic flair of “Blunt Object.” The drums and percussion by Paolo Mappa and Sergio Cammalleri, respectively, along with Maugeri’s muscular turn at the plate, make this a solid home run.

The audience is into it, as should we be. Bravos all around.

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