Stefano Maltese

Living Alive
Leo / CDLR265

Stefano Maltese / reeds, Arkady Shilkloper / French horn, flugelhorn/bugle, Sophia Dominacich / piano, Paul Rogers / bass, Antonio Moncada / percussion, Gioconda Cilio / voice, percussion

Maltese is something of an outsider in Italian jazz, though it’s hard to see why from this set of strong originals. It would be easy to give the impression that he’s a bits-and-pieces player — lambent, dark-toned lyricism, Tchicai-like ostinati, a melodic sense which can swing between early Garbarek and Evan Parker. Then suddenly he’s reminding you of Dolphy; a player you could wear out your hyphen button with. But that would imply that these different facets aren’t unified in a single musical vision. Well, they are. Everything he does makes perfect sense, from the serpentine melodies to the bass clarinet croaks and fragile soprano flutters.

Maltese is unprepossessing, thoughtful; Dominacich is a perfect accompanist in this respect. She infuses his compositions with the pale light they need, never over-stating or over-colouring anything. Moncada and Rogers complete an engine room which is tuned to perfection. Their duet section on “Dentro Il Ventro” is as free as any Guy/Lytton duel, and they have the jazz chops to work with Maltese’s sinuous heads and muscular solos. Shikloper is very much a second horn, but he plays beautifully on “Unreal City”, and he’s not so much under-utilised as understated. The temptation must be strong in such spacious, open music to plug up the gaps a little more, especially to a player of such obvious talents. Just as well he’s too tasteful for such a faux pas; his quiet contribution is indispensable.

The other voice on this set is Gioconda Cilio’s. Her appearance in these pieces often comes as a surprise, but while her solo sections take the group down much freer paths than they pursue with the other soloists, her contribution to the ensemble sound — her comping, if you will — is always logical and always adds something of real value. As a long-time collaborator with Maltese, she reveals a side of him which is not on show for most of this jazzy session.

For a set so airy, it’s perhaps surprising how much high-energy playing is going on here. One certainly shouldn’t get the impression that this is cool jazz. Maltese is a scalding altoist (he reminds this listener a little of Joseph Jarman) and Dominacich can turn up the temperature when she wants to. Even at these moments, though, something of that quiet intensity remains. As if, yes, this is loud and furious, but if these folks were to really let their hair down they’d blow your windows out. While it’s nice to have to call in the emergency glazier once in a while, it’s great to hear this more contemplative, and more contemporary-sounding side of free jazz too. Maltese is another fine discovery for which Leo Records must be congratulated. Richard Cochrane