Claudio Scolari – Synthesis – Principal CSMD 05, 57:06 ***:
(Claudio Scolari – drums, percussion, flute, piano, synthesizers; Daniele Cavalca – melodica, drums, percussion, piano, synthesizers, vibraphone, bass; Simone Scolari – trumpet (tracks 2, 4-6))
There is something darkly tinted about Italian composer Claudio Scolari’s latest offering, the trio outing Synthesis. The album’s cover art features shadowed birds rising from dimly-lit branches, and the seven-track, hour-long project sustains the same sense of a twilight environment. Scolari (who overdubs drums, percussion, flute, piano and synths) is joined by Daniele Cavalca (on melodica, vibraphone, bass and also piano, synths, drums and percussion) as well as trumpeter Simone Scolari, Claudio Scolari’s son, who is heard on five numbers. The textures on the largely lengthy excursions (only two cuts are under six minutes) are exploratory, with deceptive subtleties, and possess both a European chamber jazz trait (which sometimes reinforces the elder Scolari’s classical music background) and an experimental bent, which has an evenly measured amount of free jazz or avant-garde inclinations, similar to some titles in the ECM catalog.
The threesome commence with the ambient title track, where Scolari’s trumpet has a Miles Davis-like tinge which glides gently over a foundation of scrimmed synth, brushed and astutely rapped drums, and vibes: there is a dusky, smoky, and ashen impression, like Davis’ In a Silent Way stripped of any groove. And like Davis, Scolari, Cavalca and Scolari wait patiently for a groove: it comes seemingly out of nowhere about a minute and half into the second number, “Expression of Image,” which begins with a low melodica/trumpet duet. At first, listeners may be lulled into a reassurance of a continuing ease, but then drums and bass enter to start an urgent beat supported by lyrical melodica and a repetitive synth refrain. The nearly nine-minute piece has an extended scope which is open-ended but focused by the controlling groove: again, very Davis-esque, but without Davis’ funk underpinning. But funk does exist. A slowly building fusion feeling pervades the longest track, “Dialogue,” which includes an infectious electric bass line reminiscent of Weather Report, and percolating percussion. Here, electronics are scaled back in favor of lightly swinging and reverberant piano lines, which sometimes seem to fight for space with the occasionally turbulent bass and drums. Overall, though, there is a sparseness which settles through “Dialogue,” hedged by the absence of horn. Another type of groove permeates “Rituals.” A credible Afro-Cuban persuasion shapes the tune, where vibes, bass and trumpet are forefront in the mix and the main theme is never supplanted by meandering improvisation, which does occur on other pieces.
Imagistic preferences ascend again on the rest of the material. The cool-weather cut, “Fragment of Autumn,” is characterized by minor piano trimmings, sympathetically inserted vibes/percussion, Scolari’s austere trumpet, and Cavalca’s lithe but never overpowering electric bass. Throughout the seven minutes, the trio maintains a free-floating, abstract quality akin to early Weather Report (particularly Joe Zawinul’s “Orange Lady.”) There is also a detached drift to “Rebirth,” replete with ricocheting bass but with unpremeditated moments. On the spur-of-the-instance sections in “Rebirth,” Scolari’s trumpet shimmers like a reassuring flame amidst the ensemble’s turmoil. Synthesis concludes with the ambient “Hymn of the Inventions,” where the older Scolari and Cavalca once more investigate an electronic/acoustic context, where echoed, heavily-reverbed melodica, synthesized effects, and a skeletal percussive pulsation generate an enigmatic cinematic soundscape. On Synthesis, the two Scolari’s and Cavalca construct some intriguing outsider jazz, but the lack of purpose to some segments, and shortage of traditional jazz instrumentation on selected tracks, will probably not engender prospective interest with typical jazz fans.
TrackList: Synthesis; Expression of Image; Dialogue; Rituals; Fragment of Autumn; Rebirth; Hymn of Inventions.
This is an accessible album from a virtuoso harmonica player.