Falascone / Monico / Locatelli

Takla Makan

CMC / 9970-2

Massimo Falascone (reeds), Giancarlo Locatelli (clarinets), Filippo Monico (drums), Simonetta Artuso (voice), Fabrizio Spera (drums), Barre Phillips (bass)

Not quite what it looks like on paper, this founding recording of what became the Takla collective features Falascone, Locatelli and Monico playing as a trio and also with guests Artuso, Spera and Philips. Releases featuring Falascone and Locatelli have now been released on Takla Records, run by these two with fellow reedsman Fabio Martini. With interest in the new label’s output growing, it seems prudent to take a look at this 1997 release which, in a way, started it all off.

This is a free jazz session, make no mistake about it. Falascone has strong jazz credentials, and his broad-shouldered alto lurches with graceful ungainliness through the first number. Fittingly, it’s just the three of them for this one, which helps the new listener make sense of what’s going on. While Falascone is something of a bruiser, whose intelligent core is dressed up in some big, swaggering gestures, Locatelli is far more gnomic. The contrast between the two is wonderful because they play together, rather than against one another, and at times, despite their very different approaches, they sing together as one voice.

Monico is a very inventive drummer in this kind of situation, seeming to keep a pulse going only in his head and playing just the punctuations, dropping the bombs without any of that ting-ting-a-ting which unschooled or deliberately retro players go in for. No, this is seriously swinging, seriously sophisticated stuff. When a regular pulse does emerge, it’s as a cross-rhythm, an unexpected tempo which suddenly resolves itself in some crashing press roll; there’s more than a little Art Blakey in Monico’s playing, but stripped of Blakey’s adherence to bop timing it becomes a barrage of supremely complex accents. It would be like watching someone solve increasingly complex mathematical equations if it weren’t so exciting.

At the centre of this disc is programmed a sequence of four tracks featuring this trio with the mighty Barre Phillips. The bass player will need no introduction, and of course the results of such a propitious partnership speak for themselves. They start out without Monico in a lovely three-way melodic exchange, creating contrapuntal lines with an astonishing degree of crosstalk. The first half of “Buran” sees a more free-improv setting for the quartet, and even after the entrance of Monico the swing is muted in favour of a more textural approach, but elsewhere they play with a definite jazz flavour. The lovely “Djinn” even has that spaciousness associated with certain ECM recordings, though of course it has a good bit more bite than most of what’s to be found on that label.

The longest tracks here (taking up more than half of the CD) are in the company of drummer Fabrizio Spera. Two drummers and two reed players is a tricky combination to get right, but Spera is credited as playing “drums and amplified objects”, which gives some idea of how he fits in. His sound-world is definitely free improv, not free jazz, and that pushes the trio into other directions. Falascone and Locatelli have since proved their mettle in these more “abstract” settings with their own discs, but on the strength of the opening half of this release it might come as a bit of a surprise that they’re able to follow Spera so far down this road.

Not that they’ve abandoned jazz altogether, but it’s a far more attenuated style in which Spera’s odd noises really come into their own, commenting on and even, at times, directing the action in a most unexpected way. When they take a little drum breakdown in “Lop Nor”, it’s clear, too, that Spera has some impressive jazz chops, and the pair create a fleetingly exhilarating moment betweeen them; one could listen to just this duet for a good long while. “Cammina Cammina”, meanwhile, sporadically adopts a strange, lilting rhythm (5/16 or something; it’s not metrical, really, just irregular, odd) and that suits Falascone and Locatelli down to the ground.

The single, five-minute track with vocalist Artuso is, in this context, slightly strange, but it’s good that they included it. The trio sound very much themselves, with Artuso adding in her rather classical-sounding glissandi into the mix. It works wonderfully, and just five minutes is rather a tease, but there it is. Better that than to leave it out altogether.

Falascone, Locatelli and Monico are establishing themselves, along with Fabio Martini, as big-hitters on the Italian free jazz scene outside of the gravitational fields of the Sub Ensemble and the Instabile Orchestra. The Takla label, named after this recording, released three indispensible discs this year, and for those who have them, this is where to fill in some history; for those who don’t know this stuff, it’s not a bad place to start. Spanning two years, it’s also both a valuable document and a wonderful listen. Richard Cochrane