Festival Review: Bergamo Jazz 2002


From 1969 until 1983—with the exception of a three-year hiatus from 1979-81—the northern Italian city of Bergamo annually presented a series of “International Jazz Meetings” featuring memorable encounters between leading European and American improvisers until the political currents that can make or break cultural programs on the continent brought the event to an end. In 1991 the event was reincarnated as Bergamo Jazz whose 12th edition took place February 25-March 3.

The three final evenings of the featival were held in the city’s elegant 18th century theatre dedicated in 1897 to the famed Italian composer Gaetano Donizetti who was born in Bergamo a few years after it was built in 1791. An SRO double-bill on May 1 pairing saxophonist-clarinetist John Surman’s quartet with pianist John Taylor, bassist Chris Lawrence and drummer John Marshall and drummer Billy Cobham’s “The Art of 3” project with pianist Kenny Barron and bassist Ron Carter was a study in contrasts. Surman and his associates, who appeared together on a mid-1990s ECM recording, delivered the kind of dreamy set that personifies the impressionistic European jazz that helped define one branch of the German label’s distinctive “sound.” Cobham & Co., meanwhile, mined the American popular songbook in bluesy renditions of standards like “If I Were A Bell” and “Stella By Starlight” and also performed several Carter originals. The powerful drummer’s spry playing in a straight-ahead, acoustic context was undoubtedly a revelation to those more familiar with his work as a member of guitarist John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra or his various fusion projects as a leader.

The Archie Shepp Quartet and bassist Miles Perkins’ band Mingus Amungus headlined the concert on May 2. The latter broke up a program of original, classic mainstream and Latin jazz tunes with occasional forays into rap; two lithe dancers were featured on the set’s more ethnic numbers. While this musical mish-mash might have helped establish Mingus Amungus as a popular fixture on the local scene in the San Francisco Bay Area where it is based, the Bergamo audience seemed more perplexed than engaged by the band’s multicultural message. Shepp continues to spread the civil rights and Black Nationalism message that propelled him to the forefront of the international scene in the 1960s and while it sounded a bit dated today, it was clear his older fans in the crowd came to hear just that. Shepp’s work on both saxophone and vocals was his best in Italy in recent years, having performed shakily in Verona in 2000 and in Vicenza in 2001.

The final concert of Bergamo Jazz 2002 was devoted to emerging and established Italian artists who certainly gave the Americans and Brits who appeared on the two previous nights a run for their money. The dynamic duo of trombonist Gianluca Petrella and multi-reedman Javier Girotto opened the evening with a searing set. Petrella, who in 2001 won Italy’s Django d’Or Award as best young talent as well as the same category in Musica Jazz’s annual critics poll, is undoubtedly the most talented trombonist to emerge on the international jazz scene in recent years. The playing of Girotto, an Argentine who lives in Rome, is all fire and brimstone and these two young lions, who played together in France’s Orchestre National de Jazz in the 2000-2001 season and are members of drummer Roberto Gatto’s acclaimed quintet, are a combustible team.

Stefano Bollani, who holds the piano chair in both Enrico Rava’s and Gatto’s bands, is well on his way to a successful solo career, his profile having been raised considerably since he was showcased for five consecutive days at Umbria Jazz Winter #7 in Orvieto in 2000. In addition to leading his own quintet—the entertaining Titanic Orchestra—he has started touring in a trio context, most recently in support of his new CD Les Fleurs Bleues which was just released on Label Bleu. Although the recording features bassi

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