Tribute albums – especially those proffered to legendary ancestors – often ride their way downwards, onto a slippery slope in the wrong direction. There are those that ‘try to do – or pack too much’ into an hour or so of music; these turn out a tad sketchy in both [negative connotations notwithstanding]. Other times when the tone and manner of the music becomes obsequious, resulting from gratuitous – not to mention imitative – performances. In worst cases – and, sadly, there are a few of these too, they miss the proverbial boat completely.
Happily, none of the above applies to this remarkable double-disc by the bitingly expressive composer and multi-instrumental musician Adriano Clemente, as evidenced by his 2023 recording The Coltrane Suite and Other Impressions. Mr Clemente continues to impress with the deep study of his subjects and when he surfaces for air his musical offering is always erudite, brimful of new ideas, harmonic and rhythmic concepts which, even if they do not necessarily surpass the ingenious originality of the original – in this case those of John Coltrane, Charles Mingus and the locomotion of the New Orleans marching band – always seem to offer singular new ideas, executed with surprise and invention.
The music world, for instance, is awash with ‘forgotten’ works and recordings of Mr Coltrane – and some by Mr Mingus – so that anything new or newly interpreted must meet the bar of great expectation. Interpreting Africa-Brass, the legendary recording by Mr Coltrane with music for a large ensemble arranged by the legendary Eric Dolphy. Moreover, who will ‘play’ Mr Coltrane and who will ‘play’ Mr Dolphy. And how to progress from that recording – progress, if you will – to the late works by Mr Coltrane, which launched him and his deeply spiritual musical conception – via India – into the nether regions of the proverbial Interstellar Space?
And how to respond to the challenge thrown down the gauntlet by the diabolically difficult music of Charles Mingus? How do you make new the dramatic harmonics of the great composer and contrabassist, whose abrupt changes in pulse, rhythm and time have been the undoing of all but a few musicians who were privy to the inner thoughts of the legendary Mr Mingus? And finally, how to make all of this newly composed music of tribute sound as if it comes from a voice as if – like the Mbase Concepts proposed by the ineffably brilliant Steve Coleman – this newly minted music were naturally and organically generated, as if proceeding from body and soul, so to speak?
A welcome stroke of genius on the part of Mr Clemente is to compose music that sounds familiar and yet is ‘sung’ in an individual voice. Above all is the deeply impressive and joyful noise of this music, which is also brilliantly arranged and presented in the bright glow of flaming brass gleaming. Melodicists and harmonizing musicians soar above the rumbling thunder of drums played by the inimitable Hamid Drake – no easy feat by any stretch of imagination. The significance of this – almost a kind of musical gospel focused on the proposition: “take up thy instruments and follow me”.
The significance of this in Mr Clemente’s recording is not so much musicological as inspirational, allowing the performers led by the tenor saxophonist with an almighty tone, David Murray. The arrangements – idiomatically performed by Mr Murray – allows a virtuoso of his calibre to shape his playing of these works not as a collection – in a manner of speaking – of musical interpretative exercises but as a “speaking” work of meditation and prayer, certainly in the case of disc one – The Coltrane Suite – from Mother Africa right down to the spiritually-inspired works such as Ascent, Serene and Saint John.
Lest we forget, Mr Clemente’s cultural topography revolves around that part of civilisation that is the Latin realm. Being Italian, however, gives him an unique perspective on North Africa, once bridged by the cultural impulse to adorn music rhythmically – by an African continent shaped not only by its African-ness, but by Arab and Ottoman influences. The Havanera on disc two will emerge as a sublime example of this mélange when you close your eyes and dance to the geometric design waxed by the rhythm inside your head.
From there is a short haul to the New World peopled by the great diaspora of North and West Africa that gave birth to the folk blues and eventually to jazz. By honouring the epic nature of Mr Mingus’ work with his lurid composition Crimson Mingus. Here Mr Clemente pays rich tribute to another heroic figure in 20th century music.
Through the works of disc two – especially from Afro Funk to Crimson Mingus – Mr Clemente seems to be saying: “I am diving into the ocean of musical elocution and share my experiences of the multiple layers – indeed the multiple soundworlds of African music itself – that crash upon the shores of every continent, ebbing and flowing, as they have done all the way from the Africa to America and back again. Our world is now awash with this music.”
Lest we forget, what makes this extended recital particularly appealing is the clarity of texture of the instruments that play so beautifully in ensemble behind the great tenor horn of Mr Murray – from Mr Clemente’s flaming trumpet, and rhythmic colours redolent of the balafon, and the other instruments he plays. The glue that holds all of this together is decidedly a rhythmic one. Thus, one would be remiss if one did not pay homage to the contrabassists who bolstered the melodic rolling thunder of Hamid Drake and his drums.
Finally, the inspired virtuosity of all the performers can only be as good as the manner in which they have each interiorised Mr Clemente’s compositions and arrangements. Their idiomatic interpretations, evidenced by the sculpted inventions within their ensemble performances and their soli.
But none of this would make any of this music resound the way it does is the musicians did not make notes and phrases leap off the page, to pirouette in the air above the room, to dance and sing like all fine music must – and does – no matter whether it emanates from the bell of Mr Coltrane’s horn, or from the instruments of the great ensembles led by Mr Mingus, or by the marching bands of New Orleans where it all allegedly began anyway…
YouTube Playlist – Adriano Clemente: The Coltrane Suite
Music – Disc One – The Coltrane Suite 1: Mother Africa [intro]; 2: Mother Africa; 3: Dusk; 4: Night Earth Dance; 5: Night Fire Dance. 6: Blues at Dawn; 7: Shine; 8: Preach My Own Horn; 9: All Praise; 10: Ascent; 11: Serene; 12: Saint John. Disc Two – Other Impressions 1: Havanera; 2: Afghan Child [Duo]; 3: Afro Funk; 4: Floaters; 5: Waltz Impression; 6: Collage – Prelude to Crimson Mingus; 7: Crimson Mingus; 8: Masca; 9: Frenzy Clouds. New Orleans Portrait – 10: Lost Gold Blues; 11: Baroque Swing; 12: Snow Falling in Springtime; 13: Afghan Child.
Musicians – David Murray: tenor saxophone. The Akashmani Ensemble – Adriano Clemente: compositions, musical direction, piano, trumpet, harp, kundi, kalimba, balafon, flute, shawm, soprano and alto saxophones and bowed cumbus; Marco Guidolotti: baritone saxophone, tenor saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet; Danielle Tittarelli: alto saxophone; Antonello Sorrentino: trumpet; Massimo Pirone: trombone and bass trombone; Ettore Carucci: piano; Francesco Pierotti: contrabass. With Special Guests – Hamid Drake: drums; Fabrizio Aiello: congas [Disc One 2, 4, 5, and Disc Two – 3]; Alessio Buccella: piano [Disc Two 10, 11]; Michelangelo Scandroglio: contrabass [Disc One 11, 12]; Michele Makarovic: trumpet [Disc Two 17].
Released – 2023
Label – Dodicilune [DISCHI Ed542]
Runtime – Disc One 49:19 Disc Two 50:47
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