Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019



Let the Good be Good

by Ian Mann

October 17, 2022


There’s a sense of space and relaxation within the complexities of the music that is very appealing and which helps to make their sound distinctive.


“Let the Good be Good”

(Honolulu Records HR21)

Nicolo Ricci – tenor sax, Michele Caiati – guitar, synth, Andrea Di Biase – double bass, synth, Riccardo Chiaberta – drums

Dugong is an Italian quartet whose members are based in various parts of Europe. Guitarist Michele Caiati remains in Milan, saxophonist Nicolo Ricci has relocated to Amsterdam while British audiences will be most familiar with the rhythm team of bassist Andrea Di Biase and drummer Riccardo Chiaberta, both of whom are currently based in London.

Di Biase has been a particularly busy presence on the London jazz scene playing with pianists Bruno Heinen, Ivo Neame, Maria Chiara Argiro,  Elchin Shirinov, Alessandro Lanzoni and Dan Berkson, trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and guitarist Vitor Pereira. He leads the quartet Escape Hatch, featuring Neame, saxophonist Julian Arguelles and drummer Dave Hamblett and is a member of Moostak Trio alongside guitarist Harry Christelis and drummer Dave Storey. Di Biase has also recorded with the band Bahla.

Di Biase was also the leader of the Anglo-Italian Oltremare Quartet featuring pianist Antonio Zambrini, saxophonist Michael Chillingworth and drummer Jon Scott, releasing the album “Uncommon Nonsense” on the Babel label in 2009.

Chiaberta has featured with the band Kino Trio, a collaboration with Heinen and Italian bassist Michele Tacchi. This is a highly democratic line up, united by a shared love of music and cinema, and with the composing credits shared around the group. The trio’s excellent début “Il Cielo Sopra Berlino” subsequently appeared on the Babel label in 2019. Chiaberta has also worked with pianist Maria Chiara Argiro, Palestinian singer Reem Kelani, Italian bassist Paolina Dalla Porta and with the jazz/ electronics duo Moonfish.

Caiati has worked with saxophonist Pietro Tonolo and vibraphonist Andrea Dulbecco plus the contemporary classical music ensemble Sentieri Selvaggi. He is also an accomplished music producer who was worked with a variety of corporate clients.

Ricci leads his own groups and has also worked with bassists Dalla Porta, Jesper Bodilsen and Steve Swallow and with drummers Adam Nussbaum and Sun-Mi Hong.

The Dugong quartet has been in existence since 2014 and “Let the Good be Good” represents their third album release and appears on the Italian label Honolulu Records. It is their second release on this imprint and follows the earlier “The Big Other”(2018). The Honolulu label has also issued solo recordings by both Ricci and Chiaberta, the latter sometimes performing as a pianist as well as a drummer.

Dugong’s 2014 début “Miscommunication” was released on the label Zone Di Music 2014. All three Dugong albums are available via the band’s website

“Let the Good be Good” represents Dugong’s lockdown album. Separated by the pandemic in three different countries the band members prepared their compositions and arrangements in isolation in preparation for the time that they were eventually to record the material collectively. Caiati and Di Biase each contribute three compositions to the album, Ricci and Chiaberta one each. The recording session finally took place at Fish Factory Studio in London in October 2021 with Simone Gallizio engineering. The album was subsequently mixed and mastered by Alex Bonney with Dugong themselves producing.

With both Caiati and Di Biase credited with synthesisers the group’s music embraces both acoustic and electronic sounds. The band name Brian Eno as an influence alongside Radiohead, The Bad Plus, Craig Taborn, Bill Frisell, Frank Zappa and Charlie Haden, plus classical composers such as Chopin and Messiaen.

The band’s live performances have sometimes included appearances by guest musicians such as saxophonist Pietro Tonolo and pianist Maria Chiara Argiro but the new album is solely the work of the core quartet. Essentially it’s a contemporary jazz recording, but one that also includes the influence of rock, ambient and classical music.

The album commences with Caiati’s “Fantasma”, which features arpeggiated guitar, a “skimming” drum groove and swirling saxophone with Di Biase’s bass underpinning it all. The piece unfolds slowly and organically, revealing something of a minimalist influence but with Ricci’s tenor bringing a strong jazz flavour to the music. Caiati’s guitar twang exhibits something of that Frisell influence and there are also traces of discrete guitar generated electronica.

Di Biase takes over the compositional reins for “Not A Worry In The World” which commences with a loosely structured sax led fanfare with Chiaberta’s drums weaving patterns around Ricci’s tenor and Caiati’s shadowy guitar. The introductory tumult then subsides as the composer’s bass leads into a gentler section featuring a more subdued sax sound and the now familiar sounds of arpeggiated guitar and a floating, ever evolving drum groove. The music then re-gathers intensity throughout the course of Ricci’s increasingly passionate sax solo, before eventually subsiding once more to conclude with intertwined patterns of guitar and bass.

Ricci’s “Coccobello” is an anthemic ballad introduced the sound of his tenor sax alongside Di Biase’s bowed bass, Caiati’s luminous guitar chording and Chiaberta’s brushed drums. It then takes a more conventional course, still led by the composer’s sax complemented by Caiati’s circling guitar motif and Chiaberta’s brushed drums. The guitarist then takes over to deliver a fluent chord based solo, before Ricci follows on tenor, his playing fluent but emotive.

Caiati’s gentle “Apnea” features the composer on acoustic guitar on an accompanied intro that subsequently sees him joined by double bass and breathy tenor sax, and eventually by brushed drums. Ricci’s tenor sax gradually assumes the lead on a wistful composition that is intended to evoke a sense of place or memory.

The wistful mood continues on Chiaberta’s “Turnpike Lane” which includes a delightful double bass solo from Di Biase that combines a huge tone with a strong sense of melody and great manual dexterity. Caiati again features on acoustic guitar and the composer on brushes. Ricci’s plangent tenor sax subsequently assumes the lead, probing deeply above the rhythms of guitar, bass and drums as the music becomes increasingly dark and fragmented.

“Hugamama” and “Hugapapa”, both written by Di Biase are thematically linked and are inspired by familial ties.
The first is introduced by a guitar / saxophone duet with Caiati later soloing in more conventional fashion following the addition of bass and brushed drums. Ricci subsequently takes over on tenor and the piece also includes dashes of synthesiser as the group extend their sonic palette.
Introduced by the composer’s bass the second piece features Caiati’s gently meandering acoustic guitar lines shadowed by double bass and brushed drums, with Ricci’s gently sinuous tenor sax melody lines added later. The saxophonist then stretches out further with an extended solo, probing deeply but without sacrificing the essential lyricism of Di Biase’s composition. Di Biase himself concludes the piece with a short passage of melodic double bass.

Caiati’s title track concludes the album and is intended as a kind of “Nunc Dimittis”. There’s a suitably reverential feel about this delicate, hymn like composition which features the composer’s elegant guitar melodies and the sound of Chiaberta’s mallet rumbles and cymbal shimmers. Ricci’s tenor eventually emerges to underscore the piece with long sax melody lines.

With the exception of the first couple of tracks the mood on “Let the Good be Good” is largely gentle and contemplative with the group describing the album as “a conscious effort to create balm and respite from the social isolation and mental health damage suffered as a result of the pandemic”.

Overall I was impressed with Dugong’s music and by their astute blending of acoustic and electric sounds. Ricci’s tenor brings a real jazz edge to the music and his playing contrasts well with that of Caiati, whose guitar offers more of a post-rock ambience. Chiaberta’s rhythmic approach is imaginative and distinctive and he and Di Biase form a highly effective rhythm team offering excellent support to the front line soloists. Di Biase also impresses with the pen, as well as adding a couple of high quality bass solos. 

Although the members of Dugong impress as individuals the ensemble sound is arguably even more important on these tightly knit compositions featuring densely intertwined melodic and rhythmic lines that manage to be intricate while avoiding the kind of intensity sometimes associated with this style. There’s a sense of space and relaxation within the complexities of the music that is very appealing and which helps to make their sound distinctive, although I can appreciate that some listeners may find it a little bloodless compared to similar bands who may take a more consciously aggressive approach. Live performances may well be different and I’d be intrigued to see how Dugong tackle this music in a stage setting.

blog comments powered by Disqus