The amazingly successful collaboration of film-maker Federico Fellini and composer Nino Rota lasted from 1951 to 1979. Twenty years later, the Italian jazz bassist and composer Giovanni Tommaso took the score for Fellinii’s masterly cinematic comment on the decadence of mid-twentieth century Rome and put his own spin on it.
"La Dolce Vita" is the magnum opus for this CD. At 12 minutes in length the early upbeat section takes us on a scooter ride through the streets of Rome, and moves on to a Weill-like section reminding us of the Weimar Republic and its raunchy underbelly. The original score was described as "an unstable symphony to the teeming metropolis" that was post-war Rome. In Tommaso’s hands that playful score becomes new again. The delicate piano of Stefano Bollani lays down a filigree of sound behind Rava’s trumpet statement of the myriad themes, all the while swinging like crazy. The surrealistic suite concludes with a witty rumba, and arpeggioed chords on the piano, moving into stride piano style (or is it Fats Waller?), and breaks down into musical chaos. Then all is silence. It’s a genuine tour de force and worth the price of the disk for this piece alone.
But there are other gems to be found on this outstanding recording. On "Profumo Di Donna" ("Scent of a Woman" 1974) Tommaso’s bass is reminiscent of Charlie Haden with Quartet West, and Bollani’s graceful piano is featured behind Gatto’s fluttering brush work. On "Mondo Cane" ("A Dog’s World" 1961), instantly recognizable as the often-heard wedding song "More" much loved by wannabee Italian baritones, the bass shares solos with Rava’s muted trumpet. "Cinema Moderno" is an original Tommaso composition written very much in the style of the classic Italian movie scores. It’s uptempo and features conversations between trumpet & piano, and piano & bass, and unusual today, an extended drum solo.
"Ammazzare Il Tempo" ("To Kill Time" 1979) is a Rava composition, possessing strong reminders of Miles Davis "Sketches of Spain" suite. "Il Sogno Di Hitchcock" ("Hitchcock’s Dream"), another Rava original, is a gentle lilting ballad without words, but why Hitchcock? "Il Postino" ("The Postman" 1994) has a 90 second introduction on bass, proving again Tommaso’s deserved place as leader of this quartet, then bass with piano, concluding with an exquisite statement by Rava of the theme. Gatto’s percussive techniques are marvelous, with a light cymbal and snare. He doesn’t ever put a stick or brush wrong, he’s always subtle, understated, but so supportive, indicating a powerful symbiosis between piano & drums.
"L’Avventura" ("Adventure" 1960) suggests an impending threat with more reminders of Miles Davis’s muted trumpet. The music portrays the colors and sounds of the bullfight, cleverly punctuated by an insistent incessant rhythm on the piano: "a wry musical score" wrote the New York Times movie critic in 1961. "Il Prato" ("The Meadow" 1979) has a score by Enrico Morricone. It’s a triangular love story, gravely romantic, morose, with bowed bass beginnings searching for harmonics, a percussive technique, joined by piano, then drums martial, a sweetly poetic melody, yet melancholic. "La Prima Volta" ("Before the Time" 1998) was an art house film depicting erotic experiences matched by a score that embodies cool restraint, tentative, yet probing. "Cronaca Familiare" ("Family Diary" 1962) is the grim tale of two brothers, in which the older brother has to cope with the death of the younger. The lyrical introspective score by Petrassi, Enrico Morricone’s teacher, brings this phenomenal CD to a dramatic conclusion.
Believe it: mainstream jazz is alive and well in Italy.