CAM Jazz Crafts Series of Recordings Set in Wine Cellars

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Gabriele Mirabassi (left) and Roberto Taufic record Nítido E Obscuro at the Venica & Venica Winery in Gorizia, Italy.

(Photo: Courtesy CAM Jazz)

Jazz and wine have much in common. Both require the process of slow refinement. Both involve some level of continuity, but get their tension from the push and pull between innovation and tradition. Jazz and wine can take a while to appreciate, rewarding close attention.

But jazz and wineries? A series of albums from CAM Jazz, the Italian label founded in 2000, shows that the two can complement each other in unexpected ways. The first six albums, which were recorded over the course of a week in different wine cellars throughout Italy’s Friuli Venezia Giulia region, came out last year. The newest batch, which have a haunted, echoey quality and feature a number of leading European and American jazz musicians performing in wineries in the same region, near the Slovenian border, were released in the United States in August.

According to Ermanno Basso, the label’s producer, the idea for the series came about over dinner with Elda Felluga, who comes from a family of winemakers in the region in which the albums were produced, and Stefano Amerio, a highly respected Italian sound engineer. Basso was intrigued by the idea of recording in a setting as intimate as a wine cellar, but there were a number of technical details to consider before that vision could be realized.

Basso set out to transform each cellar into a kind of jazz club, which wasn’t all that difficult, he said, from a cosmetic standpoint, as a number of clubs are dark and narrow and underground. But there were other issues. One challenge, he said, “was to find the right instrumentation,” given the space constraints—and the acoustics—associated with recording in a wine cellar.

With that in mind, most of the albums, which were recorded before a live audience, showcase a duo, though instrumentation varies and includes piano, saxophone, drums, clarinet and cello. Initially, Basso said, the musicians were thrown off by the environment. “The first feeling was, ‘Oh, my god, where are we?’” Basso noted. “But then they became immediately familiar with the venue.”

Gabriele Mirabassi agreed. The Italian clarinetist, who has made two albums in the series—the most recent of which, Chamber Songs, he recorded with Enrico Zanisi at the Tonutti Winery—was at first discombobulated by the prospect of recording in a cellar. The temperature-controlled environment was cold and humid, he said—forbidding conditions for any instrument. The barrels, too, were prone to resonating at certain frequencies.

But he came to appreciate his unique surroundings, thanks in part to getting to meet and bond with the wineries’ employees. “I was really very, very moved getting to know the people,” he said, adding, “I didn’t expect that those guys were exactly like musicians—I mean the commitment, the compassion, the competence, of course, the ability, the love.”

American cellist Hank Roberts, whose new album with trombonist Filippo Vignato, Ghost Dance, was recorded at Le Vigne di Zamò Winery, had a similar experience. “It was chillier than I had anticipated,” Roberts recalled of his performance, “so I had my hat and my jacket on.”

The damp confines weren’t ideal for his amplifiers, but the cellist tried to make the most of the room, viewing the chance to play in a winery as an opportunity to explore sound in a new way. “We tried to use the whole space,” said Roberts, who also contributes vocals to the recording. “We tried to really fill it up, so we were hitting the back walls and making [the sound] bounce.”

“A place like that certainly carries a lot of vibes,” he continued. “There was a lot of history and an interesting feeling in there.”

Regarding future installments in the series, producer Basso said that the label is scouting for a new location in the north. If all goes as planned, recording will begin next June at wineries that make prosecco, the Italian sparkling wine.

There’s little doubt that future musicians who might be involved in the series will encounter some of the same issues that Roberts and Mirabassi did. But, Basso said self-assuredly, “a couple of glasses of wine makes the difference.” DB



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