Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Reviewed by: Ian Mann
“Choices” covers the globe, fusing musical styles in a way that absorbs and enchants the listener.
(Equilateral Records EQDM 222)
I know of Davide Mantovani from seeing him perform as a highly accomplished jazz bassist in the trio of pianists Zoe Rahman and Alex Wilson. However he is a wonderfully adaptable player who has played in a variety of styles with whole raft of jazz and world musicians from Tony Allen to Monica Vasconcelos. Mantovani spent eight years in the touring band of Senegalese musician Seckou Keita after the two were introduced at the annual WOMAD festival.
Mantovani came to London from Ferrara, Italy in 1991 and has been a leading figure on the capital’s jazz and world music scenes ever since as well as working with international touring ensembles. It’s perhaps not surprising that he has been first call bassist for both Rahman and Wilson, two musicians with strong world music leanings.
“Choices” represents Mantovani’s third outing as a leader and like its predecessors “Square One (2001) and the play soundtrack recording “Drawing Horizons” (2004) the album draws on diverse sources reflecting Mantovani’s knowledge of a wide range of ethnic musics. Zoe Rahman is just one of a stellar cast of jazz and world musicians and singers who appear on a record that covers an impressively wide stylistic range yet manages to hang together as a coherent whole. “Choices” could almost be considered to be a concept album and Mantovani a jazzier Jah Wobble.
The press release accompanying the album includes Mantovani’s notes on the various pieces, something which certainly makes my job easier and it’s perhaps a shame that these are not reproduced on the album packaging for the benefit of subsequent purchasers.
Mantovani likes to mix elements from different musical cultures and opener “Atlantico Temporal” (or “Stormy Atlantic”) combines Brazilian melody (in a song style reminiscent of the great Milton Nascimento) with the Lunbeul rhythm from Senegal, the latter popular in wedding dances. Gustavo Marques’ lyrics, sung in Portugese by Josue Ferreira, compare falling in love with being lost on a solitary raft in a turbulent ocean. Among the instrumentalists to shine are Rahman on piano and Paul Booth on saxes.
“Human…Kind?” deploys another Senegalese rhythm, Kaolak, above which soars the voice of guest singer Kashillacka. The punning title stems from Mantovani’s concerns for both man and the environment with Kashillaka and backing singers Alice Bellasich and Mantovani chanting the words “Pericolosa Umanita” (“Perilous Humanity”).
“Choice Is Yours” begins with each instrument playing a different tempo and time signature. Out of the choices are forged with the main delight being a sparkling kora solo from the Malian musician Madou Sidiki Diabate above the Guinean Koredjugua rhythms laid down by Adriano Adewale (a significant presence throughout the album on a variety of percussion) and Ahmed Mamadou Fofana (djembe). Guitarist Gullermo Hill, another strong presence throughout, also makes a distinctive contribution here.
“Bachorinho” tackles the intriguing prospect of re-locating Bach to Brazil. Mantovani’s arrangement imagines Bach’s cello suites written in the Chorinho style with guest cellist Ivan Hussey playing the Allemande then entering into breezy dialogue with Hill, Mantovani and Adewale on pandeiro. It all works surprisingly well and is great fun with Hussey giving a virtuoso performance.
At first I thought “Albatross Song” would be another piece addressing environmental concerns. Instead the lyrics by Alice and Allegra Bellasich are a homage to a deceased friend, a dedicated Buddhist whose soul is pictured soaring over his homeland guided by an albatross. Alice sings the words movingly with Booth’s alto flute prominent in the arrangement.
“Plejades”, named after a cluster of young “blue”stars, is an old tune written by Mantovani in Italy back in the 1980’s. Depicting “a sense of inner peace and contemplation” the current arrangement features excellent performances from Booth on soprano sax, Hill on acoustic guitar and Roger Beaujolais at the vibes.
“Rio Deja Vu” raises the energy levels and features Gustavo marques singing his own Portugese lyric to a samba/funk rhythm from Sao Paulo. The tune was developed from Mantovani’s bass melody and features the twin keyboards of Zoe Rahman (Rhodes) and Claudio Passavanti (Hammond) as Mantovani on electric bass and Adewale on a veritable battery of Brazilian and African percussion lay down the groove.
The funk quotient is maintained on the instrumental “Restless Wrestler” which features Rahman’s piano and Booth’s alto grappling for supremacy above the punchy grooves of Hill, Mantovani and kit drummer Davide Giovanni. It’s tricky, but ultimately invigorating stuff with great playing from the two front line “combatants”.
“A Cajola D’Oro” (The Golden Cage) harks back to Mantovani’s Italian days and features the lyrics of Seb Genovese and the voice of Neapolitan singer Al-Maranca. His passionate vocal combines well with the sensitive backing featuring Rahman on piano and Hill on acoustic guitar.
Cellist Ivan Hussey returns to feature on “Memory Box”, a classically inspired item that also features Mantovani on bowed bass in a string “triorchestra”. The leader’s resonantly plucked bass also appears alongside the melancholy ring of Hussey’s cello on a chamber like piece inspired by feelings of nostalgia. Mantovani also adds the gently chiming sound of a carillon to this charming miniature.
Mantovani dedicates “The Blue Rider” to painter Wassily Kandinsky and features twin percussionists Adewale and Fofana fusing African and Brazilian rhythms – samba, batacuda, koukou, dansa. Booth’s sinuous soprano sax snakes seductively over the top followed by Hill’s soaring electric guitar. Mantovani’s bubbling electric bass also fulfils a central role and he also supplies additional keyboards.
The album concludes on an elegiac note with the tender guitar/ bass duet “Esperando Olivia” (Waiting for Olivia). The piece was recorded two days before the birth of Guitarist Guillermo Hill’s daughter Olivia, hence Mantovani’s title. It’s delightful way to complete a rich and varied album.
Although not in any way a conventional jazz record, and perhaps a little too eclectic for some listeners, there is still much to enjoy about “Choices”. There are some superb performances from the large pool of musicians, the core formed by Mantovani, Rahman, Booth, Hill, Adewale, Diabate and Fofana, with Hussey perhaps the most distinctive of those making cameo appearances. Mantovani himself seems content to remain part of the ensemble, he solos only rarely but also contributes additional guitar and keyboards. However it’s his vision and all round knowledge of musical styles that is at the heart of the album’s success. “Choices” covers the globe, fusing musical styles in a way that absorbs and enchants the listener.
JAZZ MANN FEATURES
Way in to the Way Out: Arun Ghosh and Zoe Rahman, EFG London Jazz Festival, 15th, 16th November 2014
Part lecture, part musical performance, Ghosh and Rahman present an A to Z of their musical influences and personal jazz histories. Informative, educational and entertaining.
The story of a remarkable life and an indomitable spirit that addresses its subject with sympathy and honesty allied to painstaking detail. It's also highly readable and good value for money.