Libera Società di Improvvasazione

Al Màlaiko Noskèma
Leo Lab / CD050

Antonella Talamonti / direction, Vincenzo Appolloni, Alberto Berettini, Alessandro Campioni, Sandra Cotronei, Patrizia De Ruvo, Daniela D’Ottavi, Manuela Giovannelli, Xavier Rebut, Filiò Sotiraki, Lucia Staccone, Piergiorgio Terzi.

Luigi Onori identifies this music with surrealism — without actually using the term — in his informative but oddly elliptical sleeve notes. In fact, that mixture of the comprehensible and the elusive is at the heart of these very unconventional a capella improvisations. Nobody else in the world is making music quite like this, and yet it sounds as familiar as a folk song.

On first listen, it’s hard to believe that everything is as freely improvised as the group’s name suggests. The ensemble sound is so close, so disciplined, that an absence of predetermined densities, rhythms and melodic shapes seems unthinkable. Chants and shifting chords rise up almost simultaneously. Melodic lines flit from voice to voice, never seeming to falter. Yet even the language in which they sing is made up on the spot.

They call it “Lipit”, a Joycean babble of Romance and Baltic languages (perhaps others too) developed on the fly but with a knowledge of what has been said before. As a result, it has a surprisingly coherent sound. Only one text, which is repeated in six different solo versions here, is completely predetermined, and these tracks have a very different feel — much more like performances by actors than the conversational flow of the group pieces.

This is music which seems to have little jazz in it: its roots are firmly in European folk and choral traditions, put through much the same filter as Berio used to produce his Coro. This writer was particularly reminded of Central Asian musics on a couple of tracks, despite the fact that the singing styles are very Western. Likewise, it’s possible to be reminded of African musics (“Orio Makai Toma”) too.

So why surrealism? Well, this is no po-mo world music pastiche. This is music as C G Jung would have liked it: a structuralist’s dream of incomprehensible meanings expressed through universal forms. While you might question the philosophy, you can’t doubt the transcendent, glowing sound which results. Improvisers with a broad folk influence — Evan Parker, let’s say, since he gets a namecheck in the sleeve notes — will marvel at the telepathic co-operation between these musicians, their commitment to the moment and their utopian subjugation to the group. Jung might say this was the universal archetypes manifesting themselves in their singing. I’ll stick my neck out and say it’s some damn fine jazz. Richard Cochrane