Il Bello Del Jazz
The Italian pianist Roberto Magris, who operates a band called Europlane, is out with a new CD featuring a distinguished guest. In his mid-forties, Magris is one of those European artists so steeped in jazz that in a blindfold test a listener–no matter how perceptive–would be unlikely to conclude that he was hearing somone not from the United States. In Il Bello Del Jazz, Magris adds to his quartet Herb Geller, the American alto saxophonist who for decades has made Hamburg, Germany his headquarters. At seventy-seven, Geller retains the fire of his youth as a no-holds-barred bebopper and brings to his ballad playing a distillation of the creamy sound and conception that Benny Carter inspired in him when Geller was a boy.
I have heard no more ravishing instrumental version of the Billie Holiday standby “Some Other Spring” than the duo treatment it gets from Magris and Geller. Both of them explore the bop sides of their natures in Magris’s “Parker’s Pen,” which also has an impressive solo from the Croatian guitarist Darko Jurkovic. The repertoire is nicely balanced between established but not over-performed songs (“Key Largo,” “A New Town is a Blue Town,” “Here I’ll Stay”) and stimulating new pieces by Magris and Geller. Geller’s “Stray Form,” alluding in the title and the melodic content to Billy Strayhorn, and Magris’s title tune are highlights. Bassist Rudi Engel, a German, and Magris’s fellow Italian, drummer Gabriele Centis, round out an international group that erases boundaries.
Skerik’s Syncopated Taint Septet
What attracted me to Skerik’s Syncopated Taint Septet, once Rifftides reader Ted Allen called our attention to it in the recent roundup of listeners’ choices, was Hans Teuber. Teuber is the talented Seattle reed and woodwind player whose jazz work, particularly on alto saxophone, captivated me years ago. There is plenty of Teuber to appreciate here, and although it took me a couple of hearings to get past, or accommodate myself to, the funk and hip-hop aspects of the music, the CD has boogied its way onto my current play list. Skerik, who goes by only that name, is the tenor saxophonist and leader. The instrumentation also includes trumpet, trombone, drums and organ.
Boy, does it ever include organ. When Joe Doria’s Hammond B-3 and Craig Flory’s baritone sax are in full voice, with the other horns laying down Mingus-like unison commentary, you may as well invite your neighbors to the party because they’re not going to get any sleep. For all the rambunctiousness, Skerik manages to avoid what makes so many funk bands boring–a continuous undifferentiated dynamic level. Much of the writing here is subtle and, occasionally, flat-out funny. As on the raucous concerto grosso called “Fry His Ass,” Skerik’s gutbucket tenor solos approach but never quite go over the edge. Flory does a convincing Gerry Mulligan on “Song for Bad.” This is good-time music with more depth than at first meets the ear.
The name of the band rang a bell. A little research suggests that it was inspired by a phrase that came from Harry J. Anslinger, the mission-driven first chief of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, a job he held from 1930 to 1962. “Syncopated Taint” is how he characterized what he said jazz and marijuana were doing to the nation in the 1930s. To learn more about Anslinger, who, oddly, is not in the pantheon of the current anti-drug warriors, go here.
Il Bello Del Jazz