Festival Review: 5th Italian Instabile Festival in Pisa,          Italy


The news that the Italian Instabile Orchestra’s (IIO) placed first in the Big Band TDWR category of the 2001 Down Beat International Jazz Critics Poll was sent out on Italy’s national newswire and picked up by newspapers around the country and inspired an editorial in Musica Jazz, the nation’s leading jazz magazine whose own critics had already named the ensemble jazz band of the year several times. It didn’t seem to matter that the ensemble had actually shared the honor with the Boston-based Either/Orchestra. Never before had an Italian group or artist come in at the top of any category in the Down Beat poll and the last time an Italian name had appeared at all was more than a decade earlier when Black Saint Records founder Giovanni Bonandrini was named Producer of the Year.

The win was also acknowledged at the annual festival devoted to the IIO and sub-groups led by various members that has been held in Pisa each autumn since 1997. Known for its famous leaning tower and a centuries-old university where Galileo taught astronomy, Pisa and is no stranger to events at which adventurous bands like the IIO perform. From 1976-‘82 a visionary festival and concert series devoted to improvised music created by contemporary American and European artists was produced there under the auspices of the now defunct Center for Research about Improvised Music (CRIM). Francesco Martinelli, a founding member of CRIM who went on to curate other music programs in Pisa after the organization’s demise (e.g. La Nuova Onda, or The New Wave, which presented modern Italian jazz artists) and who has been a co-director of IIO member Mario Schiano’s iconoclastic Controindicazioni (Contraindications) Festival in Rome since 1998, developed the Instabile festival in association with the band itself and with various governmental agencies.

The fifth edition of the event, which is subtitled “Appointments with Creative Jazz,” was held Nov. 23-25, 2001 at Pisa’s historic Verdi Theatre and showcased the IIO performing several works that received their Pisa premieres and a fantastic soundtrack Bruno Tommaso, the orchestra’s founding bassist, wrote for the Buster Keaton silent film classic Steamboat Bill, Jr., as well as projects featuring Paolo Damiani, the ensemble’s cellist; its trombonist-tubist Giancarlo Schiaffini; its saxophonists Carlo Actis Dato and Gianluigi Trovesi; and its mystical multi-instrumentalist Renato Geremia.

Opening night had a Sardinian theme with Damiani’s quartet Mediana, named after an instrument in the family of ancient reeds called “launeddas” invented by shepherds on the island over 3,000 years ago, and the duo of two Sardinian artists who live in Rome — pianist-accordionist Antonello Salis and saxophonist Sandro Satta who is also a member of Mediana. Born in Rome, Damiani is of Sardinian ancestry and his ethno-jazz project reflects a pan-Mediterranean musical vision that merges jazz improvisation with influences from North Africa, Italy, France and the Iberian peninsula. Salis, the “enfant sauvage” of the Italian jazz scene who was a guest soloist on the IIO’s latest CD, Litania Sibilante, and Satta presented a more free-wheeling, jazz-oriented set which included John Coltrane’s “Naima” as well as original music the two have composed over the course of the 20 years they have been collaborating together.

The second evening showcased the IIO itself performing the Pisa debuts of pieces by orchestra members Schiaffini and saxophonist Daniele Cavallanti and accompanying a screening of the hilarious Keaton film. Tommaso’s hour-long score took full advantage of the acrobatic virtuosity of the musical personalities within the ensemble and provided the ideal musical background for the slapstick screen antics of the brilliant American comedian.

A double-bill on Sunday afternoon opened with a solo performance on flute, piano, soprano saxophone and violin by Geremia, at 71 the

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