Milan’s JAZZMI Showcases Art Ensemble, Rava, Lovano and More

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Much of the third edition of the JAZZMI Festival in Milan, which ran Nov. 1-13, transpired at the Triennale Teatro dell’Arte, an important venue in the experimental performing arts since World War II. This modernist bastion is a 10-minute walk from the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, where Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper is housed, and 10 minutes in the other direction from the Sforza Castle, where Michelangelo’s unfinished Pièta is on display.

This “both directions at once” quality made the 500-seat space an apropos setting for the opening night concert by the Art Ensemble of Chicago, midway through a grueling European tour of one-nighters after recording its 50th anniversary album in October. Helmed by Roscoe Mitchell, whose late 1960s work helped spawn the collective, and percussionist Famoudou Don Moye, the last member to join the original AEC, this iteration was a 7-piece unit, including long-standing associates like Jaribu Shahid on bass and bass ukelele, and Hugh Ragin on multiple trumpets, and three newer members of the family—Siena-born Silvia BolognesI on bass, Jean Cook on violin and Dudu Kouyaté on percussion.

Much of AEC’s immensely satisfying 90-minute set comprised Mitchell’s long, intense, thematically cogent soprano saxophone solos calibrated to different instrumental configurations within the group. Mitchell, 78 and rail-thin, projected extraordinary levels of energy, controlling the overtones and harmonics with micronic precision, as though channeling other-worldly voices to speak through the instrument. That impression was reinforced during breathe-as-one unisons and contrapuntal passages with Ragin, who refrained from soloing through much of the set. Moye, 74, orchestrated the flow with well-timed interpolations, sometimes sound-painting, sometimes creating synchronous drum chants with Kouyaté. Shahid, Bolognesi and Cook conjured textures and rhythms with care; Bolognesi’s stirring solo on “Tutankhamun,” a sly, funky line by AEC co-founder Malachi Favors Maghostut that debuted in 1969, did justice to the composer.

On Nov. 2, Italian trumpet icon Enrico Rava presented a co-led quintet with tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano and a first-class rhythm section with pianist Giovanni Guidi, bassist Dezron Douglas, and drummer Gerald Cleaver. The co-leaders—who share a love of melody in environments both inside the changes and in open spaces, had serious fun on pieces by Rava (“Secrets,” “Diva,” “Ballerina”), Lovano (“Fort Worth” and “Drum Song”), Billy Strayhorn (“Passion Flower”) and John Coltrane (“Spiritual”).

JAZZMI artistic director Luciano Linzi cited the example of the London Jazz Festival by presenting events in culturally under-served neighborhoods on Milan’s outskirts. He also reported that 48,000 people attended 210 events during the festival’s span. One was a Nov. 3 concert by Lumina, a quintet, at a recently built Pentecostal church whose sleek rectilinear planes dramatically contrast with the golden-mean architectural orientation of Milan’s historical ecclesiastical landmarks. Performing for mostly local parishioners and a few hardcore fans who made the journey, the youngish ensemble—Marco Bardoscia, bass; William Greco, piano; Emanuele Maniscalco, drums; Leila Shirvani, cello; Carla Casarano, vocals—played original chamber music. The nuanced dynamics did not hold up well in the harsh acoustical environment of the space, although Shirvani’s lustrous tone brought forth the liturgical vibrations implied by the group’s sobriquet. Trumpet maestro Paolo Fresu sat in for the final number, his kinetic solo eliciting a certain animating life force not previously present during the recital.

On the following evening at the Milan Conservatory, not far from the iconic La Scala opera house, Fresu joined Swedish bassist Lars Danielsson for a duo encounter that showcased his lyric brilliance and pellucid tone in the middle and upper registers of the trumpet and flugelhorn. It followed a forceful solo concert at the Teatro dell’Arte by Colin Stetson, a one-time student of Roscoe Mitchell, who applied his circular breathing wizardry and a barrage of extended techniques to interpret original compositions for alto saxophone, bass saxophone, and contrabass clarinet, propelling an array of multiphonically-generated drones and textures with sampled beats that he drummed out on the keypads with his right hand. For all the magnificence of Stetson’s chops, the overall effect was static, especially when considered in light of Mitchell’s improvisational audacity on the same stage three nights before. DB




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