Vincenzo Mazzone

Ping Pong
Leo Lab / CD056

Vincenzo Mazzone / percussion, Antonio Di Lorenzo / percussion, Lello Patruno / percussion, Giuseppe Tria / percussion, Giuseppe Berardi / percussion, Maurizio De Robertis / percussion, Ivan Mancinelli / percussion, Domenico De Palma / percussion, Simone Salvatorelli / percussion, Daniele Patumi / bass, Carlo Actis Dato / reeds, Giorgio Occhipinti / piano, Sandro Satta / alto sax, Pino Minafra / trumpet, Lauro Rossi / trombone

A bit of an oddment, I suppose — 20 minutes of music for nine percussionists, fifteen in the company of the famous Sud Ensemble, and the remaining twelve solo. The common link is Mazzone, not just by his presence at the trap set or kettle drums but also as composer and arranger.

Perhaps Mazzone’s solo pieces which conclude the disc are a sensible place to start. His kit playing is impressive if not dazzlingly different, his tribute to Max Roach well-observed without being pointlessly authentic. In fact, Mazzone’s conception of time feels quite different from Roach’s, so the piece works rather well. On these tracks, we hear him exploring his relationship with the jazz tradition, and while they’re technically and often musically very clever, they’re hardly hard-line vocabulary statements. Instead, they mark the subtleties which give Mazzone his own sound, and as such are valuable.

Only on his last solo outing, using overdubbed bongos and timpani, do we get a feel for Mazzone’s overall conception, niceties of swing aside. It’s orchestral and dramatically large-scale. While he’s an extremely able and knowledgeable jazz drummer, Mazzone is most himself when directing powerful forces in slow-moving, ostinato-based settings. That’s the Roach connection — his ability to swing complex rhythmic units against each other to create musical tension is uncommonly honed.

So, in a sense, it’s this last track which can lead us into the first, and so into the opening of the ambitious “Genesi 2” for nine percussionists. Like George Russell, another composer who’s attracted to big themes, Mazzone has composed a piece about the beginnings of the universe. How this programme ties in with the music itself isn’t too clear, except in the simplest (and probably best) of ways — it’s bombastic and impressive, and it has an arch-like dynamic structure which I suppose represents the cycle of birth and death. Mazzone uses much straighter rhythms than one might expect — Latin, jazz and classical metrical structures rub shoulders with the less frequent abstract passages. The movement entitled “Venere” even re-works Strauss’s timpani which depicted the dawn of human life in “Also Sprach Zaruthustra”. This writer isn’t completely convinced the piece has much formal coherence, nor that all nine players were strictly necessary, but it’s an enjoyable ride nonetheless.

As for the Sud Ensemble track, which stands out oddly on this disc, Mazzone and Minafra have worked together since the mid-seventies, so the presence of the latter’s earth-shaking septet is hardly a surprise. Mazzone’s composition for this Meditteranean Art Ensemble of Chicago is joyous, jazzy and riddled with spaces for Minafra, Actis Dato and Satta to do their things. It’s immensely enjoyable — a whole disc of this material, if that much exists, would have been welcome — and, again, reminiscent at times of George Russell, although for different reasons.

Mazzone is clearly a talented composer. The Sud Ensemble piece is fun and attention-grabbing; “Genesi 2” is a serious piece but by no means a po-faced one. This isn’t difficult material, indeed it’s about as accessible as unpitched percussion gets, but the complexities some of these rhythms set up go deeper than a casual listen would have you believe; frequently what sounds like a real foot-tapper will defy actual foot-tapping. As a whole this disc doesn’t really hang together, but as an insight into what this musician — who’s little-known outside Italy — can do, it’s certainly to be commended. Richard Cochrane