Italian guitarist Simone Massaron is a new name to me. It turns out that "Breaking News" is is first recording as a leader, though the 36-year-old Milan native is already well-known for his skill at re-scoring silent films. He has appeared as a sideman on recordings led by drummer Tiziano Tononi and saxophonist Daniele Cavallanti, both of whom are featured on "Breaking News". Along with Tononi and Cavallanti, Breaking News features guest shots by original Lounge Lizards bassist Steve Piccolo and multi-instrumentalist / composer / theoretician Elliott Sharp. As a young, relatively unknown guitarist, Massaron is taking a decided risk by having the scene-stealing Sharp guest exclusively on guitar. On the other hand, this move also makes it clear that Massaron is not afraid to acknowledge his influences while demonstrating that he has developed his own distinct and personal sound. On the latter two points, he succeeds admirably.
Massaron mixes and matches the various participants in a variety of ways. There are three brief, highly abstract duets with Sharp (the title track, ‘Plick Plick’, and ‘Bumper to Bumper’), three lengthy trio pieces with Tononi and Cavallanti (‘Albert Meets Nels’, ‘The Kid’, and ‘Ruth’s Tale’), and three tracks that feature the entire quintet (‘Louisiana Rain’, ‘Run Through the Jungle’, and ‘Brain Washed’). Massaron has chosen his sidemen well. Sharp is his usual quirky and resourceful self, and Tononi is an adept colorist who is well-versed in both non-metric and groove-oriented situations. Cavallanti’s lush sound and broad improvisational palette are particularly delightful.
The music here tends toward the relatively thorny, abstract, plugged-in sort of avant-jazz that one might have heard at the Knitting Factory back in its heyday. The chunky, metallic duets with Sharp are, unfortunately, so brief that they yield only a taste of what Massaron can do in that most demanding and rarified setting. The trios are far more rewarding. It is immediately apparent that Massaron’s playing - while it is definitely part of the avant-garde jazz continuum - is also deeply rooted in the blues. This is most evident on "The Kid", which has a stilted New Orleans second line rhythmic feel. ‘Ruth’s Tale’ is a pretty folk-like tune that Cavallanti and Massaron imbue with unexpected warmth. The set’s strongest track, ‘Albert Meets Nels’, obviously refers to Ayler and Cline (the latter mentioned as a teacher and influence on Massaron’s excellent website) and contains a melody and improvisations worthy of its namesakes.
The quintet tracks are the most problematic. Like ‘The Kid’, ‘Louisiana Rain’ puts Massaron’s love for the blues front-and-center. This desperate, atmospheric piece really clicks, as Sharp and Massaron duke it out over a relentlessly smoldering crime-jazz groove. It reminds me a bit of something that Bill Frisell could have come up with back in the ‘80s while he was still playing with Power Tools. By contrast, their version of Creedence’s ‘Run Through The Jungle’ is completely straight, albeit with a minor freakout at the end. Piccolo’s world-weary baritone voice is, perhaps, a little too refined for this setting. The whole thing left me scratching my head, wondering why this tune was chosen. ‘Brainwashed’ is a metallic, frenetic, no-holds-barred improvisation - the avant equivalent of an LP-filling be-bop blowing tune. It gets a little more interesting towards the end as the energy level subsides a bit.
Simone Massaron is a guitarist of great promise whose individualistic approach would set him apart from the great gaggle of young improvisational jazz guitarists on the scene today. However, Breaking News is a hit-or-miss affair that I found both appealing and somewhat puzzling in equal measures.