Thursday, November 20, 2008

Jazz in Italy: Dado Moroni

- Steven A. Cerra, [C] Copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Every Jazz fan knows the experience. You're listening to some artist for the first time. All at once, you hear something in the choice of notes, the phrasing or the attack which catches your attention. You begin to listen more closely and a new passion is born. The artist has spoken to you through the music. You've become a fan.

Such was the case for me with the music of Dado Moroni. My first contact with Dado's wonderful approach to Jazz piano came in 1995 while listening to Ray Brown’s Some of My Best Friends Are … The Piano Players [Telarc CD-83373] that features a number of prominent Jazz pianists, all of whom I was familiar with except Dado. The cut from the disc which really got my attention was Dado's rendition of Coltrane's Giant Steps. I was hooked; I wanted to hear more of Dado's recordings with their intriguing concepts and hard-driving style.

But where to find them? [remember this was in the mid-1990’s before really set sail] Having a friend who owned a CD store in San Francisco immediately got me access to a computer database with the quick result that there were no discs catalogued for a "Dado Moroni." While continuing my search, an edition of the Jazz Times magazine arrived which contained, of all things, a very favorable review of a new disc by none other than the Dado Moroni Trio, entitled Insights. Mercifully, the review listed the disc as JFCDO07 on the Jazz Focus as well as the contact information for the label which was located in Calgary, Alberta.

Jazz Focus president, Philip Barker kindly sent along instructions for ordering a copy of Insights and also informed me that Dado was featured on Tribute, another Jazz Focus disc under the leadership of George Robert (JFCD004) [and which contains a terrific version of Kenny Barron’s splendid tune – Voyage]. After receiving and listening to both recordings, I was even more convinced that Dado was a very special talent and one deserving of more exposure in this country. I wanted to know more about this creative Jazz pianist who opens his Jazz Focus Insights disc with a beautiful and haunting rendition of Blossom Dearie's rarely heard Inside a Silent Tear instead of the usual burner, plays Stompin' at the Savoy as a solo piano slow ballad, and gives Old Saint Nick the image of a swinging hipster with his version of Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.
Through an initial telephone introduction formed by Philip Barker and as a result of a series of follow-up conversations, Dado was a very willing participant in a running dialogue aimed at affording me some background about his Jazz growth and development. Fortunately, we did not have to rely on my spotty Italian as Dado speaks excellent English.

When asked the usual question about when his interest in Jazz began, Dado shared that his earliest memories of Jazz are while bouncing to its rhythms suspended in a baby jumper hanging from a door jamb. Dado's father developed a liking for Jazz from the Allied servicemen stationed in Italy after World War II and would bring home copies of V-discs and play them on the family phonograph. Dado was captivated by the sounds of Jazz he heard as a child and at the age of three he would ask his father to put on records by Earl "Fatha" Hines, Erroll Garner and Thomas "Fats" Waller.

There was a piano in the house which his parents had brought in for Dado's sister, Monica. Dado would climb up on the piano bench and, curling the last two fingers under each hand, pick out the melodies and phrases he had heard on these recordings.
Dado recalls: "The Fats Waller record was called Smashing Thirds. I had no idea how to play thirds. I just heard happy sounds which I mimicked with major triads in my left hand and sad sounds which I represented with minor triads in my left hand. I just tried to copy by ear the sounds I heard on the records. Of course," laughs Dado, "by copying Garner's style with its four beats to the bar in the left hand, I had no need for a rhythm section!"

As he grew older and became more serious about Jazz, Dado commented that his parents "didn't want to force me but at the same time continued to encourage me." His father would take him out to hear the music being played in local Jazz clubs in Genoa and Milan. It was during one of these excursions when Dado was about eleven that he met a Jazz pianist in a local Genoa club who agreed to give him lessons.

"He recognized that I had evolved a very unorthodox technique by being largely self-taught and decided not to try and change it." Instead, he worked ideas and information into Dado's intuitive understanding of the music and like every good teacher answered his student's questions, realizing that this was where the real learning was taking place.
Dado recalls that "at this time I was having trouble learning the bass clef. My teacher suggested that I buy a bass. By learning Ray Brown bass lines from records and playing them on the bass, I was able to teach myself bass clef." He further extended his bass clef technique by listening to piano masters like Teddy Wilson and Art Tatum. Another instrumental influence is evident in Dado's style of playing which is very hard-driving and full of rhythmic accents in the bass line. When I asked him about this he noted that "I've always had an interest in jazz drumming; maybe that's where this feeling comes from."

During high school, his father continued his Jazz lessons with frequent trips to clubs in Milan where he was able to sit in. "My father gave me a lot of freedom to explore my interest in the music. He said, "do whatever you want - as long as you finish high school."

High school was followed by two years of law school where one day Dado realized that "I was either going to be a terrible, frustrated lawyer or a happy Jazz musician." When I asked Dado what he thought was the most important element in creating Jazz he said: "you've always got to be honest." His decision to leave law school and to pursue a career in jazz is certainly a reflection of that ethos.

Since that fateful day, Dado has over the years been found in the company of Ron Carter, Clark Terry, Ray Brown, George Robert, Tom Harrell, Al Grey, Bill Goodwin, Jon Faddis and Lee Konitz. When I asked him about Jazz pianists he admired on the current scene, he shared that he had "great respect for the work of McCoy Tyner because of his integrity over the years. I also enjoy listening to Kenny Barron, Steve Kuhn and Herbie Hancock."

Compositionally, "we have so much to choose from - such a rich heritage," commented Dado. His selections on the Jazz Focus Insights disc are certainly reflective of this treasure chest, ranging as they do from standards like If I Should Lose You, through some Ellington/Strayhorn compositions, and Jamal an original piece Dado wrote as a tribute to one of the giants of Jazz piano.

Dado Moroni is an example of learning the Jazz tradition by intuition and by training the ear to benefit from the contributions of those who have gone before. It is the way most of the early Jazz masters learned their craft. Judging by the manner in which he has matured as a Jazz pianist since I first heard him almost 15 years ago, it would seem that Dado has matriculated rather well though his courses in jazz education.”

Before moving on to specific reviews of Dado’s recordings, Philip Barker, owner of Jazz Focus and with whom I would co-produce Dado’s next CD – Out of the Night [Jazz Focus JFCD032] - had a similar epiphany upon first hearing Moroni as he recounts in his insert notes to Insights.
“It is June 25th, 1994 and the 15 Calgary International Jazz Festival is in full swing. The George Robert Quintet arrives to play a concert. I knew of their Italian pianist, Dado Moroni, but I wasn't prepared for what I heard when he played. The performance of the quintet was outstanding but Moroni stood out even among the wonderfully talented musicians with whom he was teamed.

Fast forward to Montreal and Sunday, July 3rd, 1994. The Robert Quintet is in the studio recording material for a JAZZ FOCUS CD. Once again the playing of the pianist is amazing. Here, clearly, is a major talent, yet one who is not yet widely known in North America. So I ask him if he is willing to record his own CD for JAZZ FOCUS. He says he is, and you have the result right here.

Dado is no newcomer to the recording studio. Over the last 15 years he has appeared on at least 24 albums/CDs in company with such musicians as Jon Faddis, Clark Terry, Lee Konitz, Al Grey, Ron Carter, Ray Brown, Lewis Nash, Peter Washington and, of course Tom Harrell and George Robert with whom he has both toured and recorded widely. The list of jazz musicians he has played and recorded with is much longer than this and includes many of the foremost American and European jazz artists.
Unfortunately for us in North America, most of the recordings on which he has appeared have been on European labels that have not had wide distribution in North America. The time was ripe for him to lead his own group on an internationally distributed North Ameri­can label.

It has been said that you can tell a musician by the company he keeps. By that standard, Dado Moroni would seem to be one of the best. Jimmy Cobb is surely one of the greatest of all jazz drummers; he underpinned such classic recordings as Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue" and John Coltrane's "Coltrane Jazz". JAZZ FOCUS is honored, and also rather humbled, to have him on one of its releases.

Compared to Jimmy, Peter Washington is a relative newcomer to the jazz scene but he has established himself as one of the best bass players around, much in demand and widely recorded. Indeed his many recording credits include one with Dado - a 1994 date on which both were members of the Jessie Davis Sextet.

On one track of the present CD, the trio is joined by singer Adrienne West, who recorded a duo album with Dado in 1987. Among many other accomplishments, she has toured Africa for the U.S. State Department and starred in the "Fats" Waller musical "Ain't Misbehavin"'.
The program on this CD consists mainly of standards, though Moroni contributes one original composition. It starts gently with a little heard but attractive Blossom Dearie piece Inside A Silent Tear. The tempo picks up with a sprightly version of Billy Strayhorn's All Day Long. This leads, logically enough, to the Duke's Come Sunday. On Stompin' At The Savoy Dado plays solo; Stompin' is usually performed as an up-tempo swinger, but Moroni gives it a slow, thoughtful treatment which explores every aspect of the venerable piece. The next track is a piano-and-bass duet, Moroni's tribute to another great pianist, Ahmad Jamal. Jimmy Cobb returns for another nod to the Duke. and there follows a gorgeous version of If I Should Lose You. The trio is then joined by Adrienne West who provides a flawless reading of the lovely but too seldom heard Kenny Dorham tune Fair Weather.

The Milt Jackson standard Bluesology is a real swinger, illustrating well Moroni's complete command of the piano keyboard, with able support and solos from Washington and Cobb. Next up is Santa Claus. This was recorded with a view to its inclusion in the Christmas CD JAZZ FOCUS plans to release in 1996 but Dado was so pleased with it that he asked that it be included on this CD also. Santa has seldom swung like this! (But don't worry, another "take" is safely stored in the JAZZ FOCUS vaults ready for the Christmas CD when it is put together!) The program ends with two more trio pieces, the reflective Demoiselle and Ray Noble's classic Cherokee, which - despite the myriad times it has been performed - Dado and his colleagues have no difficulty making into something new, even while playing at breakneck speed. A rousing finish to a varied program!

Listening to the master tape, I am delighted with the outcome of this session. I hope and believe you will be too.

Philip Barker.”

In an effort to make more of Dado’s music more readily available in North America, Philip Barker and I joined forces and co-produced the aforementioned Out of the Night which was recorded for Jazz Focus in March, 1998.
As I wrote in my insert notes to the recording:

“The context for this second Dado Moroni disc on Jazz Focus Records was a day-long, Monday recording session in Seattle, WA that followed a weekend Jazz Party held in the Pacific Northwest. The New York-based trumpet and flugelhorn player, Joe Magnarelli, joined Dado, bassist Ira Coleman and drummer Bill Goodwin for the prior weekend’s festivities, and it was with much anticipation that we welcome this group into the recording studio fresh from the exhilaration and energy of recently playing together.”

Before moving on to a description of other recordings by Dado, in order to address what I find so appealing in Dado’s approach to Jazz pianist, here is a descriptive excerpt from these same insert notes:

“Dado has brought together a style which is both personal and unique and, at the same time, indebted to the piano giants who have gone before him. It is an approach that is very much reflective of his nature and his personality: passionate, intense, hard-driving and, above all, always swinging in the sense that it is marked by a pronounced feeling of rhythmic forward motion.”
Here’s Ken Dryden’s review of Out of the Night from
“Italian pianist Dado Moroni is better known to European jazz fans because most of his work has been recorded and distributed on the continent, but this second disc for the Canadian label Jazz Focus should help to expose him to American audiences. This wide-ranging 1998 session, with trumpeter and flügelhornist Joe Magnarelli, bassist Ira Coleman, and drummer Bill Goodwin, finds Moroni exploring music from several decades, including standards (two takes of "Embraceable You"), classic jazz works from the 1930s and 1940s (Fats Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin'" and Duke Ellington's "Black Beauty"), and more recent fare like the high-energy "Seven Steps to Heaven" and Joe Henderson's strutting "Out of the Night." Moroni's compositions are also a delight. His funky "Ne-Ne" is easily the most intense selection of the date. His blues tribute to Count Basie, affectionately called "Basie-Cally," is a swinger that features a choice muted trumpet solo by Magnarelli. The horn player's bossa nova "Bella Carolina" showcases his rich flügelhorn. Highly recommended.”
And to tack back for a moment about what was initially so appealing and engaging about Dado’s two cuts from the Ray Brown tribute album to pianists he admires, here’s Donald Elfman description of Dado’s performance:
“Italian pianist Dado Moroni, who is in the process of settling in New York [Dado lives in Genoa, Italy and maintains an apartment in New York], provides one of the album’s truly unusual delights. For his first recording with Ray Brown, the pianist does an all-out impersonation/tribute to Erroll Garner, complete with grunt. Compounding the wackiness is the fact that it’s a Garner take on John Coltrane’s Giant Steps! Ray starts with a slow statement of the theme on bowed bass with Moroni commenting quietly behind. Then, from out of a delirious nowhere, comes the Garner stuff which, after several loopy minutes, shifts gears into an up-tempo excursion more in keeping with the original tone of the piece. But with another shift, we’re back to Garner and Ray’s Arco bass. Moroni is clearly not awed by tradition new or old, and he and Ray just smile all the way through. The trio is up and cooking for My Romance, which demonstrates that the romance still has sparks.”
While Benny Green would be the pianist in Ray Brown’s trio during most of the decade of the 1990’s, shortly after this recording was made, Ray would use Dado on piano whenever his trio played in Europe.

Although the point has been made that much of Dado’s discography, especially his earlier recordings, were produced on European labels that have limited or no distribution in North America, he does have a rather substantial body of work from the past 15 years or so that is readily obtainable.

These CDs breakdown into three categories: [1] his recordings made as a sideman with Jesse Davis, George Robert, Tom Harrell, Mark Nightingale and Clark Terry, much of this from the late 1980s and early 1990s, [2] his piano trio works, then and now, and [3] his more recent performances as a “ranking elder statesman” as a member of Jazz groups based in Europe, particularly Italy.

I have selected a few examples from each of these categorizes to describe in an effort to reveal more about the developing technical and expanding creative qualities in Dado’s playing.
Beginning with Dado’s early sideman dates, and concentrating on the ones he made as a member of the quintet co-led by George Robert – Tom Harrell, these are among some of the best Jazz recordings made in the 1980s. This point is re-emphasized by Dan Morgenstern, the well-respected Director of the Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University, and the writer of the insert notes to all of the groups recordings beginning in 1987 with Sun Dance [Contemporary CCD-14037-2]:

"At this moment in time, nothing is more important to jazz than the presence of gifted young players who know and love the true language of the music and ire committed to its continuation. The list of such musicians, happily, has been growing of late, and on the evidence of this splendid record, we can safely add to it the name of George Robert.
What this young man has put together here is a band - not just a bunch of guys who met in a studio and went through the motions, but a musical collective made up of players who think and feel together, listen to each other and make their own music.

A finely matched blend of seasoned veterans and young comers is what we have here, and there may be something symbolic in the fact that the former are Americans and the latter Europeans - though the time when you could tell most European jazzmen by their accent is long since past, they still take their inspiration from this side of the pond.
Yet, for Swiss-born George Robert, jazz is something that came quite naturally, from his home environment.. His American-born mother's love for jazz was shared by his father, five brothers and two sisters; the boys all played instruments, and formed a family band. George started piano at 8, took up clarinet at 10, and studied with Luc Hoffmann at a distinguished conservatory in his native Geneva.

'I would always hear jazz records at home," he said, "and I feel that my ears got a solid foundation from that, at a very early stage. Later on, I met a lot of American musicians passing through Geneva and played sessions with them at my home. Among them, Jimmy Woode, Sam Woodyard, and Billy Hart really encouraged me when I was just 13 or 14. And studying classical clarinet gave me discipline, control and technique that were most helpful when I picked up the saxophone.”

Among the alto players who influenced young George were Johnny Hodges, Benny Carter, Charlie Parker, and Cannonball Adderley. 'They all had an influence,' he recalled, "but when I was about 14, a Phil Woods album, Alive & Well in Paris, really caught my ear - his gorgeous sound was the first thing that attracted me.”…

The group heard here was formed in the Spring of 1987 and toured in Switzerland and France; the album was recorded in Lausanne during the tour.
[Of the musicians in the band, George commented]: 'I've always admired Tom, both as a player and a composer, to have him next to me is a great inspiration', the leader said. The two horns get a beautiful blend, and have a very special way of interacting, notably in the interludes of collective improvisation that are a feature of the band. "Jimmy Woode introduced me to Dado in 1985, and since then, I've always worked with him. He's a wonderful pianist. His touch is just superb, and the way he comps is a rare gift." This young man moved to Amsterdam in 1986, and I've not the slightest doubt that we'll hear much from and about him. Bassist Reggie Johnson, with whom George had worked before, was the perfect choice. 'Reggie is an exceptional musician and the ideal bassist for us - we love him. And Bill has been a friend for a long time. I think he's one of the most musical drummers around." Goodwin's outstanding solo on the title cut proves that statement, and his experience as a record producer came in handy as well.
In a varied program of uniformly excellent originals by Robert and Harrell, the band strikes a happy balance between ensemble and solo strength. The leader gets a fine, full sound from both his alto and soprano (he handles the latter with a fluency that reflects his clarinet training) and tells a story when he plays. So does Harrell, surely one of the most underrated and under-publicized trumpeters of our time (and quite a flugelhorn player, too). The rhythm section is a delight, with a real feeling for not only time but also dynamics, and works hand-in-glove with the multihued horns. …

When you sound as good as these five guys, there's no need for artifice. This music speaks for itself, it swings and sings and it's always alive. We look forward to hearing more from George Robert and company - a new branch on the tree of jazz with exceptionally solid roots.”Two years later in 1989, the Robert-Harrell group was back with Lonely Eyes this time on GRP [1002]. Dan Morgenstern offered these insights about the band on this recording:

“This is the second album by what is unquestionably one of the best groups on the contemporary jazz scene. This is music that radiates togetherness and reflects George Robert's statement that the quintet, together since the spring of 1987, "is like a family; everybody loves working with one another.. the chemistry is there".

Indeed it is, and the music here surpasses the excellence of the quintet's impressive debut on records (Sun Dance: Contemporary C- 14037), which received critical acclaim from all comers of the jazz spectrum.

As on that first record, the quintet here presents its own music. All the compositions are originals from within the group-five by Robert, three by Harrell, and one by the band's youngest member, pianist Dado Moroni-and they are not just sketches on blues or "Rhythm" changes, but genuine pieces of music with an impressive variety of moods and textures. The quintet achieves its own identity and freshness, but it does so without artifice or self-conscious striving for novelty or effect. Clearly, there is a shared language among all its members, a language solidly rooted but never mired in the jazz tradition. The music flows with a natural ease that is a pleasure to hear.

The horns of the co-leaders are splendidly matched, both in ensemble and solo roles. Doubling and skillfully varied writing allow for a textural variety quite amazing for a small group. Harrell, who finally seems to be getting some of the credit long due him as one of the most original and consistently excellent creative improvisers of our time, plays trumpet and flugelhorn and gets his own sound, at once warm and brilliant, from both. Robert's main born is the alto sax, from which he gets a strong, personal sound, but he also has mastered the soprano and the clarinet (the latter his first horn after starting music on the piano, and heard here with the quintet for the first time on record). These two have marvelous rapport; truly together in ensemble unison, harmony or interplay, and feeding off each other in solo excursions.The rhythm section is always finely attuned to its supporting tasks, which are far from routine this group deals with subtle rhythmic as well as harmonic demands-but it seems inaccurate to describe this dynamic triumvirate as a mere "rhythm section". The greatly gifted Moroni is not only a wonderfully sensitive and alert accompanist, but adds solo strength (his modal ballad Adrienne reveals talent as a composer as well). Reggie Johnson's impeccable intonation and rhythmic strength would be enough, but he also steps out as a soloist, and when he does, it's not in the obligatory manner of giving the bassist some, but with lucidly musical (and never over-long) statements. Master percussionist Bill Goodwin is always there, adding colors and textures to the quintet's overall sonic meld and providing the kind of absolute rhythmic security that allows everyone to relax and play without fear of falling off the wire.”
And just so the impression isn’t formed that the Robert-Harrell quintet was the only group that featured Dado as a sideman during these relatively “early years” in his career, in 1994, he teamed up with Ray Brown on bass and Jeff Hamilton on drums to form a rhythm section for the young English trombonist Mark Nightingale on his recording entitled What I Wanted to Say [Mons 874 763].
And with the album’s title in mind, here’s what Johnny Dankworth wanted to say about Dado as contained in the CD’s insert notes:

“Dado Moroni contributes both brilliant support playing and solo moments; he has an incredibly facile technique which he utilizes with admirable restraint.” [paraphrase]

Dado’s solo on Alone Together will swing you into next week and he provides the album with so much forceful energy and excitement with his excellent comping, throughout.
As we approach the second [2] category of Dado’s recordings – his trio work – it is interesting to observe that while he made his recording debut in 1979, he did not make his first trio Jazz recording until 1992. The occasion was the release of What’s New? on Splasc(h) records [CDH 378.2], and Italian based label. Interestingly, as of this writing, the recording was still available through Amazon.
Carl Baugher finished his insert notes to the CD with the following, telling conclusions:

“Dado Moroni is clearly a musician with a wealth of talent. His improvising prowess is convincingly displayed on What’s New? and there is no reason not to expect further development from this still youthful artist. Stylistically, he offers a blend of new and old that’s irresistible. His polished technique, taste and solid musicality serve him well. The disc you hold in your hand provides an irrefutable answer to the question, ‘What’s New?’ The answer is an emphatic: Dado Moroni!”
And Thom Jurek offered the following review in

“As a pianist and composer, Dado Moroni is an elegant stylist whose post-Ahmad Jamal voicings and Gil Evans-styled arrangements — even for small ensembles — are singular in their subtle, suave grace and their quiet musical expertise. This trio date with a young rhythm section (Rosario Bonaccorso on bass and Gianni Cazzola on drums) is an amalgam of the familiar and ambitious for Moroni. His own compositions, which make up half the album, tend toward the inherently melodic side of his nature: There's the charming ostinato aplomb in "The Duck and the Duchess" and the multi-faceted chromatic gracefulness of "African Suite," which loops three different strains of rhythms around a complex harmonic structure that examines all the tones between B and D. And then there's the adventurous improviser who tackles the outrageously difficult melodic line in Ornette Coleman's "When Will the Blues Leave," which extrapolates a 12-bar blues and pours it into a fugue-like structure of flatted ninths. To temper the two poles, there are readings of Hoagy Carmichael's "Skylark" — done as an exercise in intervallic interplay and mode-shifting melodic exchange — and a solid post-bop reading of Robin & Rainger’s "Easy Living." This is piano trio jazz at its lyrical, exciting best.”
In 1995 with Heart of the Swing [Music Corner MPJ 1000 CD], Dado initiated what was to become a series of trio recordings with Massimo Moriconi on bass and Stefano Bagnoli on drums. On their respective instruments, Moriconi and Bagnoli are two of the most technically gifted musicians in Italy, and in combination with Dado, these three ultimately formed what has become known as the Super Star Triok, an album that was released in 2003 on [abeat AB JZ 015].
Heart of the Swing is swing personified as it abounds with delightful arrangements of standards such as Just in Time, There is No Greater Love and Charlie Parker originals such as Anthropology and Barbados which provide the listener with ample opportunity to hear Dado’s finger-popping inventions, Moriconi’s huge, booming bass sound and Bagnoli crisp and lighting fast technique. Moroni-Moriconi-Bagnoli play a repertoire that is exciting and engaging while producing an album of swinging piano trio Jazz.
There’s more of the same by this exquisitely matched, powerhouse trio on Super Star Triok with a burning up-tempo version of What is This Thing Called Love, as well as, interesting treatments of standards including You’ve Changed and Love for Sale along with well-crafted versions of Jazz classics such as So What, Oleo and Ray Brown’s FSR [“For Sonny Rollins”]. There is even the tasteful introduction of Fender Rhodes electric piano and electric bass on a couple of tracks, a reflection of the interest in bringing different sounds into the music by the current generation of Jazz musicians.
Let’s begin the third category of this piece with its focus on Dado’s more recent recordings as both leader and sideman, most of these occurring in his native Italy, by focusing on Ken Dryden’s review of three of them in :

“Pianist Dado Moroni is essentially a self-taught player who learned by listening to a variety of artists and styles. His discography as a leader is still fairly small, though he has recorded extensively as a sideman on European CDs in addition to appearances with Americans like trumpeters Tom Harrelll and Clark Terry and alto saxophonists Lee Konitz and Jesse Davis. Below are three examples of his work, including a live duo piano concert and two sessions as a sideman with up-and-coming European players.
Saxophonist Rosario Giuliani is a fast-rising star in European jazz. For his fourth Dreyfus CD
Anything Else [Dreyfus Jazz FDM 46050 366982], he composed 9 of the 12 songs and is accompanied by Moroni, trumpeter/flugelhornist Flavio Boltro, bassist Remi Vignolo and drummer Benjamin Henocq. "Blow Out" is a percolating uptempo blues line showcasing the leader's fiery alto and Moroni's intense McCoy Tyner-like solo, followed by the relaxing samba "Danae." "Backfire" is reminiscent of the Phil Woods Quintet with Tom Harrelll because of its energy, though this propulsive bop vehicle has a soulful edge in spots. Giuliani's constantly shifting solo is driven by Moroni and the rhythm section's high-octane accompaniment. The ballad "A Winter Day" opens with Moroni's dreamy piano solo, then Giuliani and Boltro (on flugelhorn) trade choruses in this engaging, nostalgic theme. Giuliani switches to soprano sax for his lively AfroCuban-flavored "Conversation" and the sentimental ballad "My Angel." The two horn players breeze through Ornette's challenging "Invisible," though Moroni's fiendish "Three Angels" is almost as demanding. The pianist also contributed the lyrical "Hagi Mystery," another piece with a Caribbean flavor, featuring Boltro's rich flugelhorn and Giuliani's impassioned alto sax.
Moroni and Enrico Pieranunzi are two of Italy's top keyboardists, so a duo concert like
Live Conversations [abeat AB JZ 039] makes sense. Both men have tremendous technique, yet also have big ears, able to complement each other's improvised lines while avoiding the train wrecks that often occur when there's a personality mismatch. Their interpretation of Miles' "Solar" is unusual, incorporating a bit of stride and a long closing vamp to spice up this bop favorite. There's a brief bit of confusion as Sonny Rollins' "St. Thomas" is introduced with a bit of the standard "Someday My Prince Will Come" and their wild romp through this calypso favorite has a decidedly humorous air. The aforementioned Disney tune is up next, transformed from a quiet waltz into a turbulent blend of dissonant harmonies and Stravinsky-like chords topped by a surprise ending.
A dazzling duo improvisation gradually leads into a stunning, somewhat ominous setting of "All the Things You Are," which segues into a more conventional version of "What is This Thing Called Love." The final track is a bit misleading: "Autumn Leaves" (the only tune listed), gradually unfolds from a dark improvisation into a bright performance with hints of Bill Evans. But this selection is actually a medley that detours into a dramatic workout of "Caravan" (yet also adding a brief, light-hearted lick from "Sweet Georgia Brown"), returning to the first theme and then engaging in an extended fast blues before gliding to a finish with a sly chorus of "Blue Monk."
Magone [Dreyfus Jazz FDM 46050 369112] marks the debut recording as a leader for Belgian trumpeter/flugelhornist Bert Joris, a veteran member of the Brussels Jazz Orchestra. His potent rhythm section includes Moroni (who provides intuitive support for the leader in addition to his top drawer solos), bassist Philippe Aerts and drummer Dre Pallemaerts. Joris primarily focuses on his originals, delving into many moods. The brooding title track (an abbreviation of "Mother is Gone") is an emotional work; the trumpeter's solo is backed by dark, sparse piano and a rock-steady rhythm like someone pacing the floor, though Moroni's free- flowing bluesy solo steals the spotlight. Joris adds his mute for "Triple," a snappy, playful vehicle dedicated to his cat. The soft, lush ballad "Anna" (named for a young girl Joris once met) showcases his rich-toned flugelhorn. The perky bop line "King Kombo" evolved from two separate commissioned works. Moroni is heard on electric piano on two numbers, including his mellow "The Mighty Bobcat" and Joris' perky "Mr. Dodo." Joris is back on flugelhorn for the gut-wrenching interpretation of "I Fall in Love Too Easily." The last selection, "Benoit," comes from a 2005 concert, a Latin number showcasing the leader's muted trumpet.”
Dado has also been a long standing member of drummer Roberto Gatto’s quintet as is reflected by his appearance on two albums: Deep [CamJazz7760-2] and Roberto Gatto jazzitaliano 2006 [Palaexpo 03].
In addition to more of Dado’s sparkling improvisations, these albums under Gatto’s leadership find him in the company of some of Italy’s best musicians both old and new for as Ira Gitler, the notable and senior Jazz critic has commented: “Italian jazz musicians are the best in Europe and are world-class players.”
On Deep, the younger generation is represented by the brilliant soprano and baritone sax of Javier Girotto, who just made a solo performance with the famed Metropole Orchestra in Amsterdam while the seasoned veterans are well represented by Gianluca Petrella on trombone and the rhythm section of Dado, Rosario Bonaccorso on bass and the irrepressible Gatto on drums, all of whom are engaged in nine original compositions penned by Roberto.

And listening to Roberto Gatto Quintet’s Jazzitaliano live 2006: Tribute to Miles Davis ’64-’68 [Paraexpo 03] with Flavio Boltro [trumpet], Daniele Scannapieco [tenor sax and the “newcomer” on this CD], Dado Moroni [piano], Rosario Bonaccorso [bass] and Roberto Gatto play a repertoire of tunes from the pre-electric Miles period of the 1960’s will leave little doubt in your mind about the quality of Jazz on exhibit in Italy, nor about the validity of Mr. Gitler’s view of it.

As I wrote in an earlier review of this album:

“The tunes on this recording are from Miles’ Seven Steps to Heaven Columbia album and from the period referred to by Jack Chambers in his wonderful book, Milestones: The Music and Times of Miles Davis as the “Circle, 1964-8.” Included in this period are such recordings as E.S.P, Miles Davis Quintet in Berlin, and Miles Davis Quintet at the Plugged Nickel multiple disc set.

The track selections on the Gatto quintet’s tribute CD are: [1] Joshua [2] There is No Greater Love [3] Footprints [4] Stella by Starlight [5] All Blues [6] Basin Street Blues [7] All of You and [8] Seven Steps to Heaven.

It’s obvious that these Italian Jazz musicians have been influenced by the Miles-Shorter-Hancock-Carter-Williams group from the Circle period. Boltro acknowledges Miles’ phrasing, Scannapieco Shorter’s tone, Moroni is indebted to Feldman’s percussive approach to the piano, Bonaccorso’s big sound comes from Carter-by-way-of-Chambers, and Gatto’s approach to keeping time on drums is done in the interrupted and inflected style as first played by Tony Williams [by way of Elvin Jones].

Daniele Scannpieco is another surprising treat on this recording. His tone may be reminiscent of Shorter, but his phrasing is like no other tenor player that I’ve ever heard before. He takes so many chances and while he escapes from some of his improvisational adventures, he also crashes by placing himself in situations from which there is no extraction other than by taking a deep breath and going on to build the next sequence. What fun!

But these Italian Jazz musicians all put their own “footprint” on this music [apologies to Wayne] by making their own contributions to this portion of the Miles canon.”

Reluctantly it is time to end this review of Dado Moroni, one of the premier Jazz pianists in the world, and his recordings both old and new, heading his own trio or as a sideman, but not before we pay a visit to a duo masterpiece that he recorded in Milan on April 6, 2007 with his long-time friend, trumpet and flugelhorn player, Tom Harrell.

The album is entitled Humanity [#2 abeat Signature Series AB JZ 051].
Comprised entirely of six, exquisitely interpreted standards – The Nearness of You, Lover, I Hear a Rhapsody, Darn That Dream, Poinciana – and the title track original by Dado, Humanity is a "formidable disc which gives the listener an hour of music that is rich in intensity, lyricism and pathos.” [paraphrase of Maurizio Zerbo’s review of the disc in].

The pure music that Dado and Tom create on this recording is beautiful articulated in the following statement by pianist Enrico Pieranunzi who requested “the privilege” of being able to write the insert notes for this recording:

“I like the title of this CD very much.

It is a declaration, a good omen, a hope.

And it is wonderful that the title refers to a Jazz CD There is really no music that is more ‘human’ than jazz, of this expression of the body and imagination that speaks to life as it is happening by improvising with sounds.

Tom Harrell and Dodo Moroni tell their stories simply, authentically.

They sing their innermost being using so-called ‘mainstream’ language … but in the end this is not important.

What counts is the profound rapport there is between the two musicians, a silent and deeply felt understanding that spans the entire CD.

What counts are the thrills provided by tunes such as ‘Humanity’ or ‘The Nearness of You,’ as well as the other tracks, revealing a touching chance of beauty.

It is in cases like this that jazz reaches the point of being the most human of all expressions of art.”
If you have been a stranger to the music of Dado Moroni, I hope this review about him will convince you to remedy that unfamiliarity with a visit to his music. I promise you that you will come away from the experience justly rewarded

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Jazz Repertory - The Beau Hunks Saxophone Soctette

This feature is a continuation of the Jazz Repertory theme initiated on Jazz Profiles with an earlier piece on The Raymond Scott Chesterfield arrangements commissioned and performed by the Paul Whiteman Orchestra in 1937-38 and recently recorded by the Metropole Orchestra with The Beau Hunks Saxtette [see June 2008 archives].

Jazz Profiles now focuses exclusively on The Beau Hunks Saxophone Soctette involving their two beautifully recorded BASTA CDs that deserve to be heard and appreciated by the widest possible audience.

It may also be helpful to keep in mind that during the early decades of the 20th century, the saxophone may have been the equivalent of today’s electric guitar in terms of popularity or to put it another way:” During roughly four decades, the saxophone evolved from a rather cumbersome marching band instrument into a hugely popular and versatile Jack of all Trades.”

As was explained in the earlier piece, in searching for a context in which to highlight this music, the editors at Jazzprofiles came across the phrase “Jazz Repertory” as used by Jeffrey Sultanof in his essay of the same name that appears in Bill Kirchner, ed., The Oxford Companion to Jazz [New York: Oxford University Press, 2000, pp. 512-521].

According to Mr. Sultanof: “The phrase ‘jazz repertory’ has many definitions and dimensions. Perhaps the most basic is: the study, preservation and performance of the many diverse musical styles in jazz. In recent years, the phrase most often applies to big bands and jazz ensembles performing classic and new music written for reeds, brass, and rhythm section in various sizes and combinations.” [p.512]

And, as was the case with the earlier Dutch Metropole Orchestra and Beau Hunks Saxtette performance of the Paul Whiteman Orchestra’s Raymond Scott Chesterfield arrangements, the two retrospectives by the Beau Hunks Saxophone Soctette would seem to fit precisely into this definition.

A close listening to these two discs will also serve to reinforce Will Friedwald’s assertion to wit:

“We Yanks are long accustomed to the irony that it often requires Europeans to tell us what's best about our own culture.”Here are the insert notes to The Beau Hunks Saxophone Soctette BASTA CD [30-9089-2] as written by Robert Veen, one of the group’s members [pictured second from the left, above] as well as graphics taken from the insert booklet. Following these will be the notes and illustrations to Contrasts, the Soctette’s sequel BASTA CD [30-9128-2]. [C] Copyright protect ed. All rights reserved.Another Musical Crusade for THE BEAU HUNKS SAXOPHONE SOCTETTE

THE BEAU HUNKS are a project band or “documentary orchestra." They began their crusade to preserve the works of forgotten pioneers of American music in 1992. The first project was devoted to the music of Leroy Shield and Marvin Harley, who composed music for the films of Laurel & Hardy, The Little Rascals and many other comedies from the Hal Roach Studios. Because no original sheet-music or recordings of this music were available, our arrangers had to make note-for-note transcriptions from tapes provided by Piet Schreuders, who had somehow managed to reconstruct Shield's compositions on tape from the soundtracks of countless Hal Roach talkies.

Between 1992 and 1995, this resulted in 4 CDs:

The Beau Hunks play the Original Laurel and Hardy Music, Vols. 1 & 2 [Basta 99003, 990251]
The Beau Hunks play the Original Little Rascals Music, Vols. 1& 2 [Koch Screen 8702, 89021].
In 1994, we directed our attention to the works of composer Raymond Scott [1908-1994] with the Beau Hunks Sextette. Scott's compositions for his Quintette from the 1930’s were, again, transcribed from archive recordings by our staff of arrangers and recorded on 2 CD's: Celebration on the Planet Mars [Basta 30-9056-21]
and Manhattan Minuet [Basta 30-9036-2].
The most ambitious project to date materialized in 1997 when the band was expanded to a 35-piece outfit for the purpose of performing Ferde Grofe’s symphonic Suites as composed for the Paul Whiteman band in the 1920s. This was the first project where we could actually use the composer's original scores and parts which were retrieved in the collections of Williams College and the Library of Congress by the Hunks' leader, Gert-Jan Blom. The results of this project are available as The Modern American Music of Ferde Grofe [Basta 30-9083-21].
The present album introduces the Beau Hunks in yet another setting. For this project the brass, strings and piano were omitted, while the woodwind and saxophone sections were dramatically expanded. The aim of this project was to pay tribute to the various saxophone bands from the first four decades of this century, when the saxophone was still a 'new' instrument.

The idea for this CD originated when we discovered the original arrangements for the Paul Whiteman Sax Soc-tette and Woodwind Ensemble in the Paul Whiteman Collection at Williams College, Massachusetts.

During the 1938/39 season, the Whiteman band had a weekly job on The Chesterfield Program, a very popular radio show sponsored by Chesterfield cigarettes. In these shows Whiteman presented the various sections of his large orchestra as independent groups. He had special arrangements made for "The Bouncing Brass," "The Singing Strings," "The Swing Wing," "The Woodwind Ensemble" and the "Sax Soc-tette."
The extremely virtuoso arrangements for this Soc-tette were made by Nathan Van Cleave for a lineup of nine saxes doubling on clarinets, accompanied by two guitars, bass and drums. Four of these Soc-tette recordings were released on 78rpm discs: "Blue Skies"/"What'll I Do?" [Decca 2698] and "I Kiss Your Hand, Madame"/"After You've Gone" [Decca 2467, both recorded 4/7/39]. Van Cleave also arranged Irving Berlin's "Tell Me, Little Gypsy" and "Crinoline Days" [Decca 2694] for the Woodwind Ensemble with a lineup of clarinets, bass clarinets, flutes, oboe, bassoon and rhythm section.

While rehearsing the original charts we noticed that various cuts had been made, due to either the limited duration of a 78rpm disc or the available airtime on the Chesterfield Program. On this CD you'll hear the complete, uncut versions as originally intended by Nathan Van Cleave.

Nathan Lang Van Cleave was born in 1910 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Together with Lynn Murray and George Gershwin, he studied composition with Joseph Shillinger. He started out as a trumpet player with Charlie Burnet, but concentrated mainly on writing and arranging. He was a staff arranger for Paul Whiteman's Orchestra, for Andre Kostelanetz, and for CBS New York. In 1945 he went to Hollywood to become head arranger at Paramount.

His numerous film scores include:
· Conquest of Space [1955]
· The Colossus of New York [1958]
· The Space Children [1958]

He also composed music scores for the TV series The Twilight Zone, Gomer Pyle USMC, Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel, Perry Mason, Hogan's Heroes, I Dream of Jeannie, and Rawhide. He died in 1970.

During our research at Williams College we came across a woodwind arrangement of Raymond Scott's most popular tune, "The Toy Trumpet," by Irving Szathmary, another arranger from the Whiteman organization. This was never recorded commercially by Whiteman but used for radio broadcast only.

There are several interesting connections between Scott and Whiteman. Scott's Quintette and Whiteman' Orchestra were both regulars on the Chesterfield Program. (During 1938/'39 Whiteman had 17 arrangements made of Scott compositions for his band. These arrangements are now safely in our library and were recorded for CD release in January of 1999 by the Metropole Orchestra featuring the Beau Hunks Sextette.)

When Whiteman guitarist Artie Reyerson left the Whiteman band in 1940 he joined Raymond Scott's Orchestra and worked with him for many years. When Raymond Scott became A&R manager for Everest Records in 1957, he employed Van Cleave as the label's staff arranger. In this capacity, Van Cleave led an orchestra backing Scott's then wife Dorothy Collins on her 1958 album Won't You Spend Christmas With Me?On the original Soc-tette recordings one can hear some outstanding soloists. We dedicate this CD to all of them - but especially to the Soc-tette's first alto and clarinet virtuoso, Alfred Gallodoro.
Over the past three years, Al Gallodoro has become a dear friend, Our saxophone players had worshipped Al's impressive recordings for many years and were surprised to find out that he was still alive. At the initiative of Robert Veen, Al Gallodoro, performed with the Beau Hunks at the 1996 Breda Jazz Festival before a flabbergasted audience. Mr. Gallodoro - who had to obtain a passport for his first trip ever outside the U.S. - moved several audience members to tears with his playing and impressed the musicians with his incredibly accurate memory and wonderful stories about his career and the people he had worked with, including Whiteman, Scott, Grofe, Shield, Toscanini and many others. Al is a living encyclopedia of American music history.
The following year, by public demand, Al returned to Holland for a series of concerts, TV & radio appearances and several Master-classes at music colleges. A funny thing occurred when Beau Hunks' sax players Ronald Jansen Heijtmajer and Robert Veen drove Al to the Hilversum Conservatory where he was to give a Master-class. Robert played the new Beau Hunks recording of the original Nathan Van Cleave arrangement of "Blue Skies" over the car stereo. Hearing the introduction and the first chorus, and believing he was listening to the Whiteman original, Gallodoro remarked, "Yeah, we were great in those days..." As the music continued, he "recognized" Artie Reyerson [guitar], Sal Franzella [clarinet], Art Drelfinger [tenor sax], and even his own virtuoso cadenza in the coda! Having played a couple of our recordings, Robert stopped the car and told Al that what they were hearing was not the original Soc-tette but the Beau Hunks' renditions of the same arrangements. Al couldn’t believe it and was raving about it for the remainder of the trip, thus giving us the best compliment we could have dreamed of. Along with Nathan Van Cleave’s Soc-tette and Woodwind arrangements from the late ‘30’s you’ll find some pre-thirties material to illustrate the history and evolution of saxophone bands.

As a special tribute to John Philip Sousa, Ronald Jansen Heijtmajer wrote an arrangement of Anchors Aweigh for seven saxes, based on a transcription of an original solo by Rudy Wiedoeft who started the saxophone craze in the 1910s.

Clyde Doerr led a saxophone ensemble for more than 10 years. We included its greatest hit “Down Home Rag” from 1923, performed by nine saxophones and a banjo.

Ruben Bloom was a pianist/composer who worked with several jazz greats of the 1920s [Beiderbecke, Lang, Venuti, Dorsey, Trumbauer and other]. Ronald Jansen Heijtmajer arranged Bloom’s enchanting composition “Soliloquy” for seven saxophones.

Legendary cornetist Leon Bix Beiderbecke composed a Modern Suite for the Piano in Four parts: “In a Mist,” “In the Dark,” “Flashes,” and “Candlelights.” Since Bix recorded “In a Mist” as a piano solo in 1927, it has been recorded by a great variety of artists: Jess Stacey, Bunny Berigan & His Men, Ralph Sutton, The Swingle Singers, Ry Cooder, Lew Davies and Michel Legrand to name just a few. To our knowledge, this is the first arrangement of “In a Mist” for nine saxophones.

Mr. Jansen Heijtmajer scored “In a Mist” and “Candlelights” for the whole range of saxes, from the bass sax all the way up to the little soprano.["In the Dark" and "Flashes" are included on the sequel CD - Contrasts]

Tenor saxophonist Merle Johnston, well known teacher and performer on the instrument, led a saxophone quartet in the 1920s & 30s and had a column in the prestigious Metronome Magazine in the 1930s where he wrote articles and answered questions about saxophone playing. Only four sides were ever recorded by his magnificent group; listening to those recordings today it seems hard to imagine that they were recorded back in 1929. Robert Veen transcribed three of those four sides so they could be included on this album [Baby, Oh Where Can You Be?; Always in All Ways; Do Something].

In a way, this CD is the companion of Fingerbustin’ by Ronald Jansen Heijtmajer and the Beau Hunks [Basta 30-9058-2] from 1995, an exploration of the development and history of saxophone music before 1940 with repertoire taken largely from Mr. Jansen Heijtmajer’s extensive collection of novelty pieces for alto saxophone and piano.
We hope that these recordings will contribute to a better understanding and appreciation of the pioneers of saxophone playing and arranging.
-Robert Veen, September, 1998
As one would imagine, in the interests of authenticity, special provisions were made in the making of these retrospective recordings and they are described in the insert notes as follows:

“About the recording … This album was recorded with pioneering back-to-basics technology, employing vintage microphones. Equipped with the low noise Telefunken triode AC 701k, the NEUMANN M49 condenser microphone works as a node amplifier feeding a transformer which is astatically wound to avoid hum pickup. The capsule consists of two sections, each with a vacuum gold-plated plastic diaphragm. Each half of the capsule works as a pressure gradient transducer with a cardioid characteristic. They can be switched to omni-directional, cardioid, or figure-of-8 on the power supply unit. The microphone capsule is rubber mounted on a Perspex cover. Underneath this cover is the microphone amplifier which, in turn, is mounted on a rubber plate. Due to this construction, the microphone is insensitive to low frequency disturbances such as floor vibrations due to walking.”

Perhaps the above falls under the heading of too-much-information, but it is interesting nonetheless as a classic definition of “labor of love.”
In 2003, Contrasts was issued by the Beau Hunks on BASTA CD [30-9128-2] and this sequel carried the following introductory explanation.

The Beau Hunks Saxophone Soctette was formed in 1997 after we discovered Nathan Van Cleave’s original “Soc-tette” arrangements in the collection of the Paul Whiteman Archives. Written half a century after the invention of the saxophone, the recordings of the Paul Whiteman Sax Soc-tette from 1938-’39 stand out as a landmark achievement in the development of saxophone music.
During roughly four decades, the saxophone evolved from a rather cumbersome marching band instrument into a hugely popular and versatile Jack of all Trades. In its early years, vaudeville groups, circus bands, novelty acts and early dance bands incorporated the relatively new instrument into their programs. Some of these ensembles, like The Six Brown Brothers, were offered recording contracts, which helped spread the growing popularity of the instrument even further.

In the 1920’s, Rudy Wiedoeft [1893-1940], a professional clarinetist who had deliberately made the switch to the saxophone several years earlier, crafted the first specialized compositions and arrangements for the instrument.
In collaboration with the Frank Holton Co. from Elkhart, Indiana, he modified the saxophone to facilitate higher action and smoother projection of the lower notes in order to accommodate his virtuoso style. Thanks to the pioneering contributions of Wiedoeft, the saxophone finally gained the respect of professional musicians as its voice became more mature. By the late 1920s a veritable “saxophone craze” was underway and there was an increasing demand for saxophones of all shapes and sizes, which were eagerly supplied by a rapidly growing industry.
Our previous album [BASTA 30-9089-2] includes all of Van Cleave’s original arrangements for the Paul Whiteman Sax Soc-tette and Woodwind Ensemble. This new album is a further exploration of the history and development of saxophone music in a wide variety of musical dialects and formats. You’ll hear the entire range of the saxophone family, from bass sax to sopranino, including the extremely rare Swanee-sax!”
In closing this Jazz repertory retrospective of early saxophone music by the Beau Hunks, Jeff Sultanof offers these further thoughts about the relevance and importance of such efforts [paragraphing modified].
“Jazz repertory represents and important direction and challenge for the future: to acknowledge the creative gifts of the men and women who created ensemble music for listening and dancing, and to prepare usable performance materials so that ensembles can easily play and study it.

Just imagine if materials from the baroque and classical eras of music had been allowed to collect dust in attics and languish in special collections and colleges and archives without editing and publication; by this time, they would have probably ceased to exist.

We are only now accepting that the music of the big band era is unique and warrants saving, not just in terms of American cultural history but of world music as well. It is imperative that this work continue for the sake of indigenous American music. Perhaps wide interest in this music is still several years away; yet the time to save it is now.”
[p. 521]