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Mr. Dodo by Rosario Giuliani

No matter how thoughtful or inspired much of modern jazz is (and much of it is, I promise), it is increasingly difficult to find musicians who don’t take themselves too seriously - the weight of history and the pressures of constant innovation fighting the fun at every step. One might do well to scan the horizon: the humor apparent in European jazz - Han Bennink tossing wooden kitchen spoons Misha Mengelberg’s way - has been well documented for some time, whether Americans have chosen to listen or not. No such fussy stuff here then, either, as an all-Italian quartet with meaty chops rips through a blistering set of high-octane, solo-intensive jazz; the muscular breadth of ideas matched only by the unadulterated exuberance of their execution. Rosario Giuliani and crew have little truck with the spate of style wars currently fashionable, relying instead on the time-tested joy of old American swing. Often with a capital S.

Thankfully, then, it is with a certain audaciousness that Giuliani comes out of the gate with fists raised, tempo topped out, tone tightened to an off-kilter acidity, and tongue-tying technical intricacies wrapped in the folds of every phrase. If not the most subtle approach, it is rare to find an opener with as much instant adrenaline delivery as Giuliani’s "Mr. Dodo," pistons pumping with sheer verbose force. In a sense, it is reminiscent of a bebop aesthetic in which flat-out fluency had to be proved first before one was given credence on a bandstand; in another very real sense, however, Giuliani is a consummate enough musician to avoid the pitfalls such bop-based flurries inspired: the mindless, mile-a-minute mechanics of too many straight ahead discs on the market today. If Giuliani comes out of a lineage anchored by Coltrane’s emotional urgency, it is motivated by the revolutions of Jackie McLean’s harmonic keening and tempered by the florid eloquence of Benny Carter’s supple resolutions. On the title track "Mr. Dodo," "September," and most of all on "Mimi" - the most startling virtuosic displays of the day - Giuliani is tethered around a pole of high tension, clearly inspired by his material and musical companions, playing the game of statement and substitution with such alacrity that the smile is nearly visible spreading across his breathless mouth.

Giuliani also acquits himself nicely, if less joyfully, on the slower numbers that add pacing to the album. Flanked by a solid set of compatriots, Giuliani is able to surrender to a variety of moods, adding a much needed respite from the all-out assault launched during the disc’s most inspired moments. Marcello di Leonardo - from his thoughtful tom-tom work on "Home," attentively goading Giuliani to surprising heights, to his thunderous, exhilarating ride out on "Sortie" - offers a surge, pulse, and counterattack without which Giuliani would flap aimlessly. Most consistent, however, is pianist Pietro Lusso, who shines during his contributions. His full, two-handed articulations act like the perfect foil for Giuliani’s side winding tsunami of single-note phrases; on "September" he moves confidently back and forth between McCoy Tyner linearity and a gospel-inflected block chord style, hammering home his points without faltering at Giuliani’s frenetic pace. Ornette Coleman’s "The Blessing," taken at a mid-tempo trot, provides space for a short, but sure-fingered solo, mixing a harmonic fullness (foreign to much of Coleman’s pianoless quartet) with a fragmented, sideways sense of melodic incorporation taken straight from the composer’s approach. Straight lines shaded with angular, two-fisted explorations, Lusso’s style is mature and carefully formed, and ensures that when Giuliani steps back from his inspiring statements, the listener is left in able hands.

Dreyfus Jazz has long been a label for Americans looking to expand their collections if not their stylistic preferences. Giuliani and his band of sympathetic soldiers is no exception to the club, offering challenging compositions attacked with a straightforward ingenuity, openness and outright joy. If not the most starling release of the year, it ranks among the most enjoyable, proof positive that stern-faced, bulky jazz music can snap to smiling, svelte shape in the hands of the right practitioner.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Rosario Giuliani
  • CD Title: Mr. Dodo
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2002
  • Record Label: Dreyfus Jazz
  • Tracks: Mr. Dodo; September; Home; By Night for Ever; The Blessing; Francys Song; Sortie; The Cover; Monsieur F.D.; Mimi; From the Ashes'
  • Musicians: Rosario Giuliani (alto and soprano sax), Pietro Lusso (piano), Dario Rosciglione (bass), Marcello di Leonardo (drums)
  • Rating: Four Stars
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