Italy’s Bergamo Fest Covers Multiple Streams of Expression

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Jacob Bro performs at the Bergamo Jazz Festival on March 18.

(Photo: Fabio Gamba)

The 43rd edition of the Bergamo Jazz Festival was a triumph for its artistic director, Maria Pia de Vito, one of the world’s great vocalists, and the first woman to organize a major jazz festival in patriarchal Italy. Over the course of four days, she curated a balanced, well-attended program that covered several streams of expression, in line with her capacious interests.

The proceedings began on March 17 with Athens-based Tania Giannouli’s threnodic 13-part suite on prepared piano, executed with formidable technique and a strong rhythmic sensibility. Giannouli morphed her Steinway into a phantasmagoric orchestra, coaxing unamplified lower-register sounds that — whether or not it was her intention — triggered images of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, using the treble range to temper the horror with reflective passages, fierce dance episodes and church bell evocations.

Later that evening, Vijay Iyer, finishing a tour with a new trio, led a gleaming, streamlined, propulsive set. Bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Jeremy Dutton rendered heroic bass vamps and drum chants, without much intergroup dialog. Roman drum avatar Roberto Gatto closed the evening with an Italian quartet, presenting succinct hard-boppish tunes with nice melodies, superbly interpreted by the excellent trumpeter Alessandro Presti, propelled by Gatto’s relaxed beat refractions of Elvin Jones and Tony Williams.

Friday began with Danish guitarist Jakob Bro’s trio (with trumpeter Arve Henriksen and Catalan drummer Jorge Rossy) behind their 2021 ECM album Uma Elmo, which documents their scratch-improvised first meeting. A year later, the music had evolved in collective directions, Rossy’s gracefully dancing timbres and Henriksen’s well-integrated trumpet-electronics-voice guiding the rubato flow from one episode to the next.

Later, at the Donizetti, Fred Hersch and Enrico Rava (ECM has recorded their recently formed duo project) convened bassist Drew Gress and drummer Joey Baron for a lyric, gently swinging set that traversed Ornette Coleman (“Turnaround”) to American Songbook (“The Song Is You”) to Chico Buarque (“Portrait In Black And White”). Hersch played with circumspection that signified deep respect for the 82-year-old trumpet melody master, whose pure tone and free phrasing belied recent surgery to remove a tumor from his chest. The full house hung on every note. The late set ambiance was wilder, as Florence resident Jeff Ballard’s quartet of A-list thirty-ish American expats (alto saxophonist Logan Richardson, bassist Joe Sanders, guitarist Charles Altura) took informed liberties on songs like Booker Ervin’s “Lunar Tune,” Coleman’s “Chronology” and a piece by Guillermo Klein.

On Saturday night, Hersch’s one-time mentee, Brad Mehldau, played a focused solo concert of 18 pithy, poetic miniatures. A few hours earlier, such concision was absent from a quintet led by virtuoso French violinist Régis Huby, featuring ingenious Italian drum-electronics wizard Michele Rabbia. The sonic brew was mesmerizing for the first half-hour but repetitive thereafter; Huby’s only solo came 50 minutes in.

At 11 next morning, Star Splitter (trumpeters-electronicists-percussionists Rob Mazurek and Gabriele Mitelli) gave a master class in ritualistic electroacoustic sound-shaping. A few hours later, Trio Correntza (Perugian clarinet virtuoso Gabriele Mirabassi, singer Cristina Renzetti and guitarist Roberto Taufic) offered playful homage to Antônio Carlos Jobim. Then Giornale di Bordo (Ship’s Log) — with veteran Chicago drum hero Hamid Drake and free-spirited Sardinian luminaries Antonello Salis on piano, Roland 700K and harmonica, Paolo Angeli on prepared guitar and Gavino Murgia on saxophone and voice/beatbox — played an enthusiastic, crowd-pleasing concert driven by Drake’s immense lexicon of authoritative grooves.

Bergamo’s final 2022 concert opened with rising star Michael Mayo, concluding a Euro tour with a quartet, who went through the motions on originals from his breakout album, Bones. Mayo undermined his remarkable range and ability to seamlessly incorporate harmonized overdubs into his flow with stiff delivery of his self-absorbed lyrics, as though reading them from a teleprompter; it didn’t help that the drummer, playing to a click track, kept a robotic, metronomic beat.

The final set featured Viento Y Tiempo, a slamming band of Cuba-born Miami-ites led by grandmaster pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba and his childhood friend, Celia Cruz-channeling singer Aymée Nuviola, who addressed an array of Cuban classics with idiomatic vigor, virtuoso execution and forward-thinking attitude for an hour. Then Madame Nuviola, a worthy descendent of the hundreds of divas who have graced the Donizetti Theater over the past century, faced stage left and, in a fitting show of respect, asked De Vito to emerge from the wings to join her in singing “Quando, Quando, Quando,” by the late Pino Danielle. It was an unscripted, emotional moment, DeVito’s pellucid, soulful voice merging with Nuviola’s dark, powerful contralto. DB



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