Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A music heritage: Mario Schiano

Hyperfragmentation of today's music business sometimes doesn't help that much, if you want to give the right value to people, movements, or even moments in the history of a particular style. In 2003, manifestolibri published a little but important book (138 pp. only) titled "Un cielo di stelle - parole e musicadi Mario Schiano". His author, Pierpaolo Faggiano, is a journalist, that writes also for the italian All About Jazz site. The book, conceived as a long interview with Italian saxophonist Mario Schiano, is accompanied by the CD "Apollon - Una fabbrica occupata". Recorded in 1968 by Schiano himself with bassist Marcello Melis and drummer Marco Cristofolini, the music, never available before in its entirety, is the soundtrack for Ugo Gregoretti's movie with the same title.

Apollon was in fact a typography placed in Rome. In 1968 employees took it up for one entire year; Gregoretti made a documentary with squatting images, and superimposed the voice of actor Gian Maria Volonté (a famous icon of Italian social consciousness and political commitment through artistic expression) as a narrator. Some fragments of the music from this records were put throughout the scenes, but they were in fact very short pieces: in fact, the record was issued with this book for the very first time. It's really a pity that this book and CD were no longer reissued after their first press, but they are actually easily available through the publishing house or in Italian reminders bookstore.

One of the pivotal figure in the development of free improvisation in Italy, Mario Schiano, born in 1933 in Naples, crossed his career with the likes of Marcello Melis, Bruno Tommaso, Giancarlo Schiaffini, Giorgio Gaslini in Italy, and with internationally recognized artists such as Joelle Léandre, Fred Van Hove, Paul Lovens, Han Bennink, Misha Mengelberg, Mark Dresser, Dave Holland, and Sam Rivers. He started playing with his Gruppo Romano Free Jazz in 1966 in Rome, after shorts and criticized experiences in his homeland. The trio was Schiano on alto, bassist Marcello Melis and drummer Franco Pecori. In those years Rome was the base for internationally acclaimed musicians like Gato Barbieri, Don Cherry, and Steve Lacy.

Gruppo Romano Free Jazz, Folkstudio, Roma 1967 - Photo: Pierpaolo Faggiano 

"Apollon" is only a small, but highly interesting, part of that reciprocal involvement between musicians, movie directors, writers, intellectuals, with the politics of that time and creativity in an attempt to suggest a more open and deeper look on what was going on in society and in the world. Marcello Melis, just to name another important collaboration of this period, was involved in Pier Paolo Pasolini's movie "Appunti per un'orestiade africana". For the soundtrack, he worked on Sardinian ethnic traditions, mixing them with African-American music, as he did also in his "Perdas de fogu" (RCA, 1975, featuring Don Pullen on piano, Sheila Jordan on voice, Bruce Johnson on guitar and Jerome Cooper on drums) and "The new village on the left" (Black Saint, 1977, with Roswell Rudd on trombone and Enrico Rava on trumpet) records. That was the environment, with musicians merging different levels and shapes of both innovation and tradition.

Schiano himself was heavily involved in mixing free improvisation with various ethnic forms of music, often misunderstood by producers, but nonetheless keeping on pushing his creativity. Further, after the hot season of political and social protests was drowned under terrorism and international conspiracies, fermented in order to put Leftists apart from Italian government, Mario Schiano won't give up. He worked hard on experimental music: a solo saxophone record produced by Gianni Sassi (that in those days was trying to disclose to a large audience John Cage's aesthetics and Demetrio Stratos' experimentations on voice diplophonies along with Nanni Balestrini post-Gruppo '63 writings, just to name his most famous attempts in disclosing avant-garde to a most popular and young audience), and a series of attempts to mix creative jazz and cabaret structures, with a notable record such as "Un cielo di stelle" (Cramps, 1979, co-titled with Tommaso Vittorini)

The heritage of Mario Schiano is now shared and preserved between his closest collaborators. The most important is the experience of the Italian Instabile Orchestra, in which he played for many years, spanning through a career culminating in a record with pianist Cecil Taylor ("The owner of the river bank", Enja, 2003), that gave the orchestra one of his typically short, but relevant, appreciation: "The Instabile can play". The book is closed by three short writings composed between 1979 and 1982. Three ironic portraits of the environment of the time, and of the world and attitude related to the music business. I personally hope not only for a new reissue of the book, but also for an English translation of it. In the meantime, for all who wants to enjoy the music, at the addresses mentioned in this article the book+CD is all still available, and for a very cheap price.

Related Links:
Pierpaolo Faggiano at AllAboutJazz Italy

 Italian movie director Ugo Gregoretti
talks about the making of "Apollon"

Friday, June 17, 2011

A shamanic workshop: Sainkho Namtchylak Feat. Arto Lindsay

Music Workshop 2011
Milano, May 31, 2011
Triennale di Milano, Teatro dell'Arte

Words + Photos: Gian Paolo Galasi

Even if you're not cynic, it's nevertheless difficult to pull apart how you have to be tough if you want to strive your goals in the music business today, and try to share your own personal achievements with a large audience. While tonight two veterans of experimental languages like Sainkho Namtchylak and Arto Lindsay are playing in an almost full theater near the center of the city, in a quiet and cool place like the Triennale Museum and its surrounding and almost natural environment, lots of musicians are harshly strieving for places to play in and people to play with. Those last six months were demanding for experimental music (and beyond) hard-ons. Milano will surely be a better place in September, when the MITO Festival will bring us a series of events related to Haiti music and culture, and the likes of Diamanda Galàs, Louaka Kanza, Omar Souleiman, Christian Fennesz.

But since January, people here had the possibility to see only a bunch of important happenings: bassist Joelle Léandre playing with poet and performer Nanni Balestrini, Peter Brotzmann accompanied by Steve Lacy's devotee and fellow Gianni Mimmo, with friends Xabier Iriondo on guitar and self- built instruments and Cristiano Calcagnile on drums, plus the Organic project led by trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, veteran of the AACM Association. Only the last one was promoted by a theater, being the others settled in a couple of self-administered social structures, Cox 18 and Torchiera. As far as going 'underground', a good mention is for Attila Favarelli, a musician that since the beginning of this month is organizing in The Lift, his private recording studio, public exhibitions of young French composer Kassel Jaeger and Echtzeitmusik's duo Mat Pogo/Ignaz Schick, and for O' - Artoteca, a place devoted to both installation/performances/contemporary art and electronic music.

Far away from matters related to scheduling, on 31 May at La Triennale di Milano, Sainkho Namtchylak and Arto Lindsay shared with the audience the result of a two-day workshop in which they gave shape to an amazing mix of tuva/tibetan deep throath singing, lullabies and no-wave slights, or, better said, clouds of coal and sound. It's impossible not to recognize the distinctiveness of this couple of prime movers in their own fields, and breathing the result of two creators of musical nuances working together is always a wave of freshness in the middle of that part of today's cultural scenery that fixed quest and personality as the most important values.

Two different sets: a solo performance by Namtchylak, that you can see as a good introduction to her last output Cyberia, a record related to oytulaask chants and shamanic experience that takes the stock of the singer's multi-faceted vocal technique, spanning from open melody through improvised singing; and the duo with Lindsay's nervous but well balanced mix of rapid slashes and distorted and surrounding effetcs. If the firts part of the concert is remarkable because you won't find elsewhere a singer able to combine multi-tones chant with the wide spectrum range she's gifted, the second part is the real surprise. Guitar plunges vocal textures, opening then to lead us into a dark, misty and surrounding environment.

And even if Lindsay and Namtchylak together were playing what seemed to be a bunch of eccentric, vaguely melancholic and noisy ballads, the twos showed a coherence of inspiration and of result. Lindsay accompanied with nervous but fluid movements his playing, while Namtchylak mastery with more structured song forms, combined with her ability to improvise, gave her the possibility to weave a texture around which her partner worked more with his characteristic sound dynamics, from minimal gestures to loud fillings.

It's a matter of fact that music is also a playing field in which moods and colors loose the tracks we usually relate to common and everyday feelings and sensations just to elevate themselves, and you as a listener, to a wider range of emotions and suggestions. This is a big part of shamanic cultures, not that apart from their most direct social function: broadening the stream, opening to a meditative emotional setting in which the number and the value of hues and shades increase and overtake the boundaries of directness, just to take time and place in which to experience a much open perspective. That's what people in the audience tonight took part of, and this is a good reason to push forward with that and all related musical occurrences.

See Also:
Arto Lindsay official website
Sainkho Namtchylak official website

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Precious Soul: Charles Gayle

Solo Saxophone
Novara Jazz, Cascina Picchetti, 12.00 a.m.
Solo Piano
Conservatorio Cantelli, Novara, 20.00 p.m.
June 2, 2011

Words + Photos: Gian Paolo Galasi

Charles Gayle,Cascina Picchetti,Novara Jazz
Charles Gayle, Cascina Picchetti, June 2, 2011

This year's edition of Novara Jazz will stand up for a couple of remarkable highlights: Ebo Taylor, who played in Piazza Duomo on May 27 with his Afrobeat hot-flavored call-up, and a couple of exhibitions, in the same day, by Charles Gayle. New York based saxophone and piano player is truly achieving Coltrane's and Ayler's legacy, both on a stylistic and personal level. Gayle is part of a post-bop world that, even before the so-called new thing started harassing the scene as a demanding music-to-listen-to right in the middle of the '60s, waving on his flags statements like Spiritual Unity, wasn't completely feeling at ease with tricky chord changes and bebop jumping out of diminished 7th, even if that was, at the time, the most fashionable way to express yourself. 

In fact, while jazzmen, after Parker and Gillespie more orthodox followers, tried to warm and cool music with always excellent but as different results, as the likes of Miles Davis, George Russell, Oliver Nelson, there was an unprecedented and parallel world of, mostly, unsung heroes, that were trying to go back to their gospel and church roots. Charles Gayle, as his more succesfull, posthumously speaking, fellow Albert Ayler, drew heavily on chants and prayers. Picking up a record like Forgiveness (Not Two, 2008), and skimming through the titles, like 'Living Waters', 'Glory, Glory, Glory', 'Forgiveness', makes widely noticeable their being coherently in line with 'The Bells', 'Holy, Holy, Holy', 'Initiation'. 

Surprisingly enough, Gayle's voice on alto is very related to Ayler's. But while the latter's phrasing was shakey, nervous, confrontational, the former's more gentle, chubby, and in some way more devoted to the way another tenor master, John Coltrane, was usually binding together his statements, at least in a period of his career: starting a line, developing, then coming back to a previous point and going ahead again from that. More spacey, less torrential. Check out his version of 'Giant Steps' to feel what coming from a demanding development of a coherent tought back to his straight essence would mean.

Charles Gayle, Conservatorio Cantelli, Novara, June 2, 2011

Being an open space the ideal venue for a solo alto saxophone or not, Gayle's set was warm, confidential, friendly. The night, in Novara's Academy of Music, a gorgeously fixed old Steinway embellished with full and rich resonances his curling, striding, deep, dissonant, but utterly melodic playing. Whereas he so often layered the bottom to the peak, using even his full arm on the keyboard, or chuckling gently his fingers, the lightness of his touch in both those gestures and in all the possible ranges in between remains a constant, and maybe Gayle's proper, excited but jaunty and bright signature. 

Clusters and melodies are both interspersed the one with the other, bulding up a language that openly moves from jazz tradition but that evolves in a personal statement in which what can seems apparently fuzzy is, in fact, a grooving, hazy network of cross-references, from Thelonious Monk to Art Tatum, from James P. Johnson to Cecil Taylor. Charles Gayle lived for many years following his highly personal options, and as a result he is truly suitable for speaking not only for himself but for a rich and full tradition of inside track shapers.

See Also:
My photo galleries [on alto] [on piano]
Howard Mandel interview to Charles Gayle on The Wire
James Lindbloom interview to Charles Gayle on Perfect Sound Forever