AMN Reviews: Setola di Maiale Unit & Evan Parker – Live at Angelica 2018 [Setola di Maiale SM3880]

Crafting a musically cohesive, uncongested free improvisation with a small group is hard enough. It become much more difficult the larger the ensemble. Some large groups—the Variable Geometry Orchestra comes to mind—have been able to manage this nicely. Add to their number the Setola di Maiale Unit, an ensemble headed by percussionist Stefano Giust.

The Setola di Maiale Unit is a free improvisation group whose membership isn’t fixed. Many of the players are artists on the Setola di Maiale label, which Giust heads. For their appearance at the 2018 AngelicA Festival in Bologna the group, in addition to Giust, consisted of Marco Colonna on clarinets; Martin Mayes on horn and alphorn; Patrizia Oliva on voice and electronics; Alberto Novello on analog electronics; Giorgio Pacorig on piano; and Michele Anelli on double bass. Special guest Evan Parker sat in on tenor and soprano saxophones, while composer Philip Corner and dancer Phoebe Neville dropped to play a brief introduction on gongs. The performance was in part a celebration of label’s twenty-fifth anniversary—an auspicious landmark, and a fittingly fine set to commemorate it.

The hour-long improvisation is tracked into five sections prefaced by Corner and Neville’s introduction. Each section highlights some aspect of the group’s work, usually on the basis of the many subgroupings that emerge over the course of the set. What’s remarkable is that there was no conducting or direction; the changes in dynamics and density and the frequent interludes for solos, duos, and trios were arrived at spontaneously. Each player has some time as a leading voice if not a soloist; there are beautiful soliloquies for piano and drums, and instances of impromptu polyphony breaking out among the horns. It’s exactly the kind of playing one would expect from some of Europe’s most sensitive improvisers, and a happy anniversary indeed.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Marco Colonna, Silvia Corda & Adriano Orrù: Istinti Ragionati [bandcamp]

The trio of reeds, double bass and piano has a long and distinguished history in advanced jazz and other improvisational musics. From Jimmy Guiffre’s innovative trios to the more recent trios of Paul Bley, Evan Parker and Barre Phillips, or Ken Vandemark, Havard Wiik and Haker Flaton, the drummerless trio has the dynamic range and palette of timbres to produce a kind of improvised chamber music of introspection and expression. Istinti Ragionati, a trio recording featuring Roman reed player Marco Colonna on clarinet and bass clarinet, and the Sardinians Silvia Corda and Adriano Orrù on piano/prepared piano and double bass, respectively, is an outstanding demonstration of the range, subtlety and power this type of ensemble is capable of.

Although fully improvised, the music shows the kind of balance and organization ordinarily associated with small-ensemble, composed chamber music. This is most immediately apparent in the trio’s supple control of texture, which arranges sounds in order to allow space for individual and ensemble passages to develop in an uncluttered environment. While often abstract, these passages retain a grounding in melody even when the vocabulary turns atonal and the dynamics veer into the heated expressionism of free jazz. Colonna often favors a long line that moves easily between pantonality and a lyrical modalism; when not providing harmonic support for tonal episodes, Orrù takes the bass into the rich territory defined by free counterpoint and pure timbre. As the hinge between wind and strings, Corda deserves special mention. She’s capable of binding the two other voices with suggestive harmonic fragments, or braiding them by serving as a third line within the polyphonic whole. In addition, her harmonic clusters and phrasing do much to flavor the group sound with the cerebral astringency of the classical avant-garde.

This is superbly thought out improvised music whose spontaneous formal sense makes the title—loosely meaning “rational instincts”—seem particularly well-chosen.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Marco Colonna & Agusti Fernandez – Birth of Shapes [Bandcamp]


On the face of it, the duet would appear to be the least complicated of improvisational configurations. There are only two voices involved, eliminating any need for intricate arrangements of either a predetermined or spontaneous sort, and a presumably low upward limit on the variety of textural qualities available. Ramifying from this seeming simplicity though is a potentially complex set of interactions playing out across multiple levels of possibility.

The observation above is occasioned by Birth of Shapes, a set of improvised duets featuring Marco Colonna on clarinet, bass clarinet and baritone saxophone, and Agusti Fernandez on piano and prepared piano, which was recorded live at the Sala dei Giganti in Padua.

Birth of Shapes’ seven improvisations present the piano-wind duet from different architectural perspectives. On Giant Sleep and Memories at the Mirror, Colonna and Fernandez take the basic structure of the sonata—a solo voice over piano accompaniment—and recast it as a kind of free sonata liberated from strictures of sonata form. Memories at the Mirror adds a further unconventional twist by beginning with Colonna playing two instruments at once, effectively harmonizing his own line over Fernandez’s shaken-metal prepared piano sounds. Other pieces allude obliquely to a Baroque model of interplay between wind and keyboard. Abstract Feelings, for example, is an angularly contrapuntal piece made of thickly knotted lines—coarse-grained baritone saxophone over restless piano cascading across registers—that somehow settles into a pensive, sometimes wrenching, second half. On the title track form follows expression, as an intensely played clarinet, often reaching into the extreme upper register, grinds against a densely droning piano foundation. On all tracks, both musicians constantly maintain a fine balance between classical equilibrium and improvisational intensity.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Mauro Sambo, Marco Colonna & Ivano Nardi – …non così lontano dal cuore [Plus Timbre PT029]

0292016“…non così lontano dal cuore”—not so far from the heart—is a long, uncluttered and atmospheric improvisation from the trio of Mauro Sambo (electronics, electric guitar, piano, shakuhachi and double bass), Marco Colonna (alto clarinet) and Ivano Nardi (percussion). Over the course of the forty-one minute-long piece Colonna supplies lithe, serpentine melodies that frequently echo or counterpoint themselves thanks to Sambo’s looping and electronic manipulation. The interplay between the two musicians largely centers on the timbral contrasts and overlaps of distorted electric guitar and thunderously resonant piano chords on the one side and the now rounded, now overblown and raw-edged sounds of the clarinet on the other. A high point is a brief duet for the buzzing, sustained notes of the reed instrument and the shakuhachi’s skittishly voice-like melodies. Throughout, Nardi provides sympathetic and sensitive support on percussion.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Marco Colonna / Giovanni Maier / Zlatko Kaucic – Impressioni Astratte [bandcamp]

a1153098642_16For good reason, abstract art and improvised music have long been associated with each other. As disciplines, they’ve been mutually inspiring and influencing; as bodies of work lacking overtly mimetic or predictably cyclical forms and conventions, they challenge audiences in similar ways. And, galleries of modern and contemporary art make for congenial settings for staging improvised music.

At the end of last year, the Galleria d’arte moderna e contemporanea in Pordenone in Northeast Italy hosted a program of live improvisation by a trio led by Marco Colonna. Impressioni Astratte—the release is named for the art exhibit it was connected to—captures the music played there.

Colonna, who plays clarinets, saxophones and flute, is a prolific musician of broad culture. In addition to more conventional improvisational settings, he’s played North African-tinged duets with oudist Evaggelos Merkouris, and has transcribed and adapted to solo clarinet selected movements by J. S. Bach. For this date, he put together a geographically-diverse ensemble—Colonna is from Rome–which included double bassist Giovanni Maier (Friuli in Northeast Italy) and Slovenian percussionist Zlatko Kaucic.

Like good abstract painting, the music is fraught with a creative tension that impels a sense a movement. Also like good abstract painting, it is uncluttered. There are no wasted gestures but instead a constantly moving equilibrium of timbres, dynamics and, most importantly, open space. Kaucic’s restrained, sensitive playing has much to do with keeping the overall textures accommodating in that regard. With generous arco lines and discrete use of harmonics, Maier is particularly adept at crafting timbral counterpoint to Colonna’s reeds. Colonna, for his part, maintains a profoundly lyrical voice throughout, providing the center of gravity on which the music balances.

In the end, abstraction rises or falls on the plasticity that defines it—those dynamic relationships of forms and colors that structure the picture plane. By analogy this is true of improvised music, where the stakes and risks of performers disclosing their formal choices in real time are particularly high. Impressioni Astratte is dramatically successful in this regard and is a fine example of painting with sound.

Daniel Barbiero