AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: Mahakaruna Quartet – Life Practice [Setola di Maiale SM4360]

From the Mahakaruna Quartet comes this substantive and thoroughly enjoyable set of jazz-based free improvisation. The group, consisting of Giorgio Pacorig (Fender Rhodes piano and electronics); Gabriele Cancelli (trumpet); Cene Resnik (tenor saxophone); and Stefano Giust (drums and cymbals), were recorded live at the Jazzmatec Festival in Udine in Northeast Italy in the covid-darkened days of September, 2020. The resulting music surely must count among the few positive things to emerge from that year.

Over the course of the set, which has been broken up into six tracks for the album, the quartet produces a cooperatively crafted improvisation notable for its vivid blending of color and intelligent use of variable dynamics. Pacorig’s Fender Rhodes and electronics play a particularly key but discreet role in weaving together the overall texture; integrating contemporary electronics into what is essentially an acoustic context can be difficult to do well, but Pacorig manages to do it with a light but sure touch. Cancelli and Resnik demonstrate themselves to be first-rate collective players, and Guist once again plays with a sensitivity and musicality virtually unequaled among improvising drummers.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: Haiku (Paolo Pascolo & Stefano Giust) – s/t [Setola di Maiale SM4030]; Jars – s/t [Setola di Maiale SM4050]; Ombak Trio – Through Eons to Now [Setola di Maiale SM4070]

Percussionist Stefano Giust, a native of Unterseen, Switzerland now resident in Pordenone, Italy, is a multifaceted drummer who serves as the common link on these recordings of two trios and one duo. All three are all improvised and reflect a refined manner of playing with space and color.

Haiku is a deceptively simple art form. Consisting of a handful of syllables, three lines and plainly direct language, these poems when successful imply an entire macrocosm in the microcosmic observation of detail. By the same token the improvising duo Haiku—Stefano Giust and Paolo Pascolo—take the smallest ensemble format and leverage it to improvise a rich world of sound color, texture, and line.

Giust is credited with drums and cymbals, but in practice he is a multi-instrumentalist in the way he approaches the various components of his set. Each individual drum is treated as a distinct instrument in its own right, with its own unique voice to be sounded alone or in chorus with the other voices. Giust plays for timbre and space rather than for pulse and leaves a good deal of open room for each element of his to resound to its fullest. The recording puts the listener right in the middle of these sounds where he or she can actually feel the vibrations—especially of the bass drum.

Pascolo complements Giust’s sound with flute, bass flute, tenor saxophone and electronics. Whether on flute or saxophone Pascolo plays with a liquid fluency. His lines cohere around thematic runs—downward cascades of notes shifted over different implicit keys, elongated tones slowly floating upward—that aggregate over the course of an improvisation into songlike arcs. On bass flute Pascolo unfolds a line with the gravitas appropriate to the instrument; his two contributions on electronics serve as abstract interludes in between acoustic flights.

On Jars, Giust is joined by Slovenian double bassist Boris Janje and Croatian clarinetist/bass clarinetist Henry Marić. Like the Haiku recording, Jars is an improvised session in which space plays a highly audible role. Giust again provides a flexible framework of color and even moves into defined, yet elastic, rhythms on a couple of the tracks. Although containing mostly expressive, melodic music, the album does have moments of pure, unpitched timbre as Marić, a forcefully lyrical voice on reeds, when doubling on prepared electric guitar creates scraping, spiky sounds. Janje, who tends to favor staccato, economical bass lines, during the more abstract passages is able to open up his sound with extended pizzicato and arco techniques.

Through Eons to Now is another trio session, this time for tenor and soprano saxophone (Cene Resnik, who like Janje is from Ljubljana) and cello (Giovanni Maier of Trieste) as well as Giust’s drums. The music here is energetic and forward—still attentive to the formative role of space, but at the same time willing to fill that space with compacted sound. An important part of the group’s signature sound is the way Maier’s cello plays a kind of hybrid role, punctuating the overall texture with low, pizzicato notes on the one hand, and setting long, high-register tones against Resnik’s own long upper-register tones on the other.