|Tiziano Tononi is one of my favorite musicians for a variety of reasons. First, he is an excellent and versatile drummer. The guy studied with Andrew Cyrille and percussionists from La Scala. He plays contemporary classical, jazz, African and every other style from the Mediterrean. He has maintained a career long partnership with the great Milanese reed player, Daniele Cavallanti. Together they have a great free jazz duo CD, Udu Calls. They form the heart of the group Nexus and have always been a part of the Italian Instabile Orchestra.
Tononi is also notable for the way he plays hommage to those who came before, the avatars of the jazz tradition, who most influenced him. In this regard, I must always point to We Did It, We Did It!, his superb 3CD collection on the music of Rahsaan Roland Kirk. But he also has CDs devoted to Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry and John Coltrane.
This is his most recent offering on the great Italian Splasc(h) label. Besides Tononi and Cavallanti this CD features Luca Calabrese on trumpet and flugelhorn, Emanuele Parrini (my favorite new jazz violinist), William Parker being his rock solid self on the bass and Steve Piccolo doing the vocals and recitations.
So what do we have here? Initially an African influenced piece with chants by Tononi and strong tenor playing from Cavallanti. Then a slow and scary rendition of Robert Johnson's Crossroads.
The centerpiece is The Spirits Up Above Suite. This is a three part suite that is built around different songs that Tononi loves- Ayler's Music is the Healing Force of the Universe, Marley's Redemption Song and Mingus' Haitian Fight Song among others. All of the music and solos are stuctured around Piccolo's performance of Amiri Baraka's Who Blew Up America?
To say that some of you might find this post-9/11 poem unsettling is probably an understatement. If you tend to be reactionary, you will find this a slap in the face. If you are willing to think about Baraka's list of questions, you will find an unsettling meditation on how people have come to resent this country so much. Tononi's presentation of this work is brilliant-the juxtaposition of the final section of the poem about the Owl with its quietly desperate music leading into a reprise of Curtis Mayfield's People Get Ready is powerful stuff. This is political musical theatre at its best.
The focus then shifts back to the purely musical with Cavallanti's post-bop Central Parker. Parriani's solo on top of Parker's all powerful bass is a highlight.
Finally, a reprise of Crossroads that ends in mid-phrase.
All in all, another thoughtful and musically powerful offering from the team of Cavallanti and Tononi. I cannot recommend highly enough getting to know these two. This CD is a great intro to their work as are the CDs I mentioned earlier. - Greg Taylor
Daniele Cavallanti (tenor sax); Luca Calabrese (trumpet, flugelhorn); Emanuele Parrini (violin); William Parker (double bass); Steve Piccolo (vocals); Tiziano Tononi (drums, tumbadoras, bata, shekere, kalimba, log drums, gongs)