Carlo Actis Dato
Carlo Actis Dato (reeds)
Edoardo Marraffa (tenor sax)
Two solo discs; one by an acknowledged master of the Italian music scene and one from a lesser-known name. Both, as it turn out, shy away from complete abstraction, turning often to quite traditional jazz concerns, although both are interested in the extended techniques of the avant garde. Both CDs take the view that playing solo doesn’t have to mean rambling on for hours, which is a good thing. Here, as they say, the similarities pretty much end.
Dato’s disk contains an astonishing 30 tracks, although this isn’t quite as it seems because a third of them are tiny bits of found sound — radio shots and field recordings — which are presumably supposed to be redolent of some nonspecific third world country in which the reedsman would have us believe his roots can be found. It really is true that Dato is powerfully influenced by Middle Eastern and North African musics, but Indonesia? Japan? What have these to do with his music? One suspects they’re there just to provide a whiff of the generically exotic. As decontextualised fragments they’re certainly not musically very interesting, and they bear no discernable relation to what Dato is doing for the rest of the CD.
These interruptions aside, however, Dato turns in a disciplined set of brief performances here, almost all of them up-beat tunes with strong rhythmic components, very funky but also rather slight. One yearns to hear him develop the melodies a bit (which he only occasionally allows himself space to do) and, with such danceable material, he really seems to feel the absence of drums and a bass. Above all, one wants to sample these superb performances of very catchy tunes and give them some beef. Much as he may like the image of the street musician busking out songs in Marrakesh or Katmandu, the affectation isn’t convincing and he’d be better off concentrating on the things which he can do extraordinarily well when the mood takes him. The playing here is of fine quality and no mistake, but the conception is flawed, marring some of the good work Dato puts into it.
Marraffa’s album is bitty in a completely different way. His repertoire ranges from the extreme avant noise camp right through to a passable impersonation of Lester Young, so a vocabulary statement like this one is bound to be a bit varied. The more extreme stuff is, frankly, a bit posed and artificial-sounding, and Marraffa is, at times, certainly not in control of the things which come out of his horn. This willingness to push at the edge of his technique, however, can easily obscure the fact that he really can play, with a range of big, breathy tenor sounds, both straight and avant, which are both accomplished and rather personal. He does need some polish, but that will come; he already has bags of character, which is the hard bit, after all.
The straighter tracks are much more bizarre, but they do reveal one of his most distinctive qualities — his preference for constructing quite long melodic ideas and punctuating them with silences. Put next to Dato’s driving, riff-based style of playing, it’s quite a contrast.
Inevitably, the most successful moments here are those when the two sides of the saxphonist’s personality meet, as on the very impressive “Il Sogno Di Una Cosa”, which fuses his smoochy jazz style with a set of articulations which resemble tearing metal. Lots of promising things here; Marraffa’s is a name to look out for. Richard Cochrane