There are not many places where Italian jazz fans, who mostly love free jazz, can hear AACM, avant-garde, radical improvisation and the greatest musicians of these ever fresh sounds: the Sant’Anna Arresi festival "Ai Confini fra Sardegna e Jazz", near Cagliari in Sardinia, is one of those few.
This is a kind of festival that does not care about how many people attend the concerts, considered that «quality is not measured by figures», as art director Basilio Sulis stated. And if many jazz focused media have attended the event, if some of its shows have been broadcasted on radio, if the next edition will be numbered the 25th, then probably Sulis is right to strive going on holding the festival in the Piazza del Nuraghe of his 2,700-inhabitants hometown, albeit complaining the indifference of the administrators.
After the first week mainly focused on AACM and its bigger names, from Muhal Richard Abrams to Roscoe Mitchell and many others from Chicago improvised scene culminated in Roscoe Mitchell’s orchestration "Cards for Orchestra", featuring Nicole Mitchell’s magnetic solo on piccolo , the second week presented a different kind of improvisers, all in exclusive performances, and it also shifted mostly on spontaneous music for large ensembles.
On September the 1st, young Japanese pianist Nobu Stowe, now a Baltimore based, performed his "An Die Musik" solo piano by improvising on bass-lined harmonic progressions with fluent melodic lines yet too much tied to the structure: his special guest, Achille Succi, first provided for heartfelt soloing on shakuhachi, the traditional Japanese flute, then he blew his alto sax upon Nobu’s harmonic changes. On a different path Wadada Leo Smith’s "Golden Quartet" walked, a set played on electro-acoustic post-Miles’ Bitches Brew atmosphere, which the intense trumpet player does not even disown. Backed by Vijay Iyer on piano and John Lindberg on double-bass, his mellow tones are also contrasted when the mates switch onto their electric devices, Fender Rhodes for the pianist and some wha-wha and other filters for the bass-player, that make up an interesting combination of acoustic and electric sound, propelled on by Pheeroan akLaff’s propulsive drumming: a waving groove, perspired on akLaff’s sticks and gritty for the effects on the bass pedal and the Rhodes. The acclaimed encore is satisfied with a short 1’40’’ piece in trio, drumless.
On September the 2nd, pianist Matthew Shipp dedicated his "Harmonic Disorder" concert to two jazz musicians recently passed away, Rashied Ali and Joe Maneri. He draw the attention of Sant’Anna audience through jazz classics rendered in his distinctive and witty way, also thanks to his sidemen, Michael Bisio on double-bass and Whit Dickey on drums: while starting with One Day My Price Will Come, where the bassist’s tremolo finds proper insertion, the concert reaches its high climax with broad-hints to A Love Supreme and hieratic India, provided by Bisio with both bow (intense quasi to the breaking point) and pizzicato, while loner Dickey’s unending flow of rhythm clinks sustaining with nimbleness and lightness all along the set. Shipp also shows off his vibrating, impetuous and percussive playing on remarkable versions of What Is This Thing (Called Love) and Ellington’s C-Jam.
On September the 3rd it’s to Venezuela-born pianist Luis Perdomo and his trio, featuring Hans Glawischnig on double-bass and Eric McPherson on drums, to play some original contemporary jazz, performing pieces from his last release, "Pathways", and others from the previous ones too. Perdomo’s trio sounds quite balanced, with McPherson engaging brilliant and elegant pulse on his cymbals and drums, and Glawischnig’s responsive counterpoint: their cohesive interplay works both on rhythmic pieces, like originals Nomads or Unexpected or Miriam Sullivan’s boppish Baby Steps (with steady breaks of drums), and also on DeJohnette’s Tin Can Alley, as well as the encore with Sunrise, remembering somehow of Soflty. A Southern-American pianist that - finally - does not drop montunos and other Latin specialities! The day after, Abraham Burton and Eric McPherson Quartet lets the two musicians present an artistic brotherhood lasting about ten years: McPherson shines again in his fizz and fresh drumming, the tenor player is provided with an open and rounded sound, devoted to a modern hardbop that, anyway, does not diverge from the tradition of this genre, which is not necessarily a flaw. Also the bass player distinguishes himself by a remarkable comprehension with Burton and McPherson, whereas the pianist seems not to get into the set.
Maybe because Moore does not play the piano anymore, or because of his odd self-made instruments, or even because of the pure spontaneity and also pretty ingenuous , Digital Primitives set featuring Cooper Moore, Assif Tsahar and Chad Taylor looked like rather naive. The music was simple as well as Moore’s instruments, but the message reaches the audience suddenly. Outstanding the range of his one-string bass, played by two drum-sticks, one plunking and the other pitching. Taylor also appears in playing m’bira, and then takes off his floor-tom from the drum-kit, and get the center-stage with Moore, to drive on his sandy brushes God Bless the Child blown by Moore on recorder, enchanting. Israeli sax player Assif Tsahar gives a notable solo on the poppish Love Truth. However, after realizing some problem with his mouth-bow, Moore started singing "I am happy, I am so happy to be alive", also drawing the Israeli sax player in a comic jumping dance, enthralling the people as well. A concert played mostly on the credit these celebrated musicians gained so far and on their artistic honesty.
The last day of concerts started with Lafayette Gilchrist’s piano solo, a performance that passes through the genres, with a handful of personality. Gilchrist has great clearness of exposition of his own ideas, a particular taste for splintering the phrases among his two hands, always without taking too much care of bass-line and melody, of which he possesses the sense inside. Among the most grooving tunes he played new compositions like Phase 3, Dried Goods and The Naif, then also Bubbles on Mars (from his album "Towards the Shining Path"), and the romantic ballad Thorn Bush, closing his set with Black Sunshine, recorded live at Vision Festival in duo with Hamid Drake. Being a quite long standing sideman of the eminent reed player David Murray, the set proves Gilchrist to be a player who knows his job well.
The final concert is performed by virtuoso guitar player Stanley Jordan, renowned for his tapping approach, supported by drummer Kenwood Denard, permanent element of Jordan’s trio, and Aldo Mella, Italian doublebass player who had the tough office of substituting Charnett Moffett. Though his skill is now a consolidated topic, Stanley Jordan always remains outstanding and amazing, and his tapping is always very beautiful to be seen alive. Probably because of his relaxed companionship with the guitarist, sometimes Denard exceeds on the volumes, although his drumming is imaginative and rich (press-rolling on the snare with one hand only!), and also melodic, sometimes. Several solos on bass and the smile on Jordan’s face tell that Mella was up to the task. The set-list offered to the large and attentive Saturday audience pieces like Stolen Moments, Impressions, Jobim’s Insensatez (How Insensitive), the fawning classic-style Romanza (Beethoven) played on solo guitar, Horace Silver’s involving Song for My Father and, after a long intriguing improvisation from the band, the encore on solo guitar (again) with Somewhere over the Rainbow.
The final words are due to be reserved to the two Conduction ensembles, amusing the combo of Ernest Dawkins with "Binomial Tradition", where improvised licks were alternated with pre-set riffs, fascinating the orchestra led by Lawrence D. Butch Morris with his "Conduction no. 188", where nothing is before and the result is based only on the live interaction between the musicians, who give their ideas as content, and the conductor, who takes that material and uses it into a structure, for a risky, touching improvised continuously live exchanging. And the first tune came out as a wonderful one.