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Guido Spannocchi Quartet

Guido Spannocchi Quartet, Music Spoken Here, The Marr’s Bar, Worcester, 02/05/2024.

by Ian Mann

May 03, 2024


Ian Mann enjoys a live performance by the Vienna born, London based saxophonist & composer Guido Spannocchi and his quartet and also takes a look at some of his recorded output

Guido Spannocchi Quartet, Music Spoken Here, The Marr’s Bar, Worcester, 02/05/2024

Guido Spannocchi – alto sax, Danny Keane – keyboard, Jason Simpson – electric bass, Pete Adam Hill – drums

Guido Spannocchi is an Austrian born saxophonist and composer who has been based in London for the past twelve years and is now an established presence on the UK jazz scene. He studied jazz saxophone, classical flute and musicology at the Conservatoire in his home city of Vienna before moving to Paris for two years as a post graduate.

Promoter Dave Fuller of Music Spoken Here enjoyed a performance by Spannocchi’s quartet at the Woolwich Works venue in London and was so impressed that he decided to invite the band to Worcester.

The Spannocchi quartet typically features the leader on alto sax (he sometimes also doubles on baritone) and his ‘right hand man’ Danny Keane on piano / keyboards. A variety of players have filled the bass and drum chairs, with Pete Adam Hill, the group’s regular drummer in attendance this evening. Jason Simpson on electric bass replaced the advertised Jihad Darwish but has played with Spannocchi many times before and is part of his regular ‘pool’ of musicians.

Spannocchi’s recorded output includes “Perihelion”, a 2021 album recorded with a sextet featuring Sylvie Leys on tenor sax, Jay Phelps on trumpet, Robert Mitchell on keyboards, Tristan Banks at the drums and Michaelangelo Scandroglio on double bass. The leader specialises on alto sax and the compositions are all his. Several of them were to feature in tonight’s set.

The music on “Perihelion” is comparatively tightly arranged but Spannocchi’s live shows place a greater emphasis on the art of improvisation. The 2022 concert recording “Live at Porgy & Bess” was documented at Vienna’s leading jazz club and features a quartet comprised of Spannocchi, Keane, Hill and electric bass specialist Ruth Goller. The programme sees the quartet stretching out on a mix of pieces from the “Perihelion” recording, in addition to a number of newer tunes.

Spannocchi’s latest release is a limited edition live recording available only on cassette. “Live at London Jazz Festival 2022” captures the Spannocchi / Goller / Keane / Hill quartet at the Signature Brew venue in Haggerston playing a wholly improvised set of “collective spontaneous compositions”. It’s not a ‘free jazz’ album as such, there are still readily discernible grooves and melodies and the sound is immediately recognisable as that of the Guido Spannocchi Quartet. Each side of the cassette is a continuous performance with the ‘compositions’ linked together. The album packaging doesn’t list tune titles but online sources demarcate the music into titled sections, these presumably named by Spannocchi.

Having heard the Live at London Jazz Festival cassette prior to tonight’s show I was expecting two long, unbroken sets but instead Spannocchi and the band chose to focus on written material, although with plenty of scope allowed for collective improvisation and for individual expression.

Spannocchi chose to specialise on alto sax and I was immediately impressed by his sound on the instrument, his tone full and powerful and also penetrative and incisive. His compositions are often inspired by travelling, by people and places, hence the promise of “exotica, calypso, West African grooves, Japanese folk and a sprinkling of jazz” in the pre-gig publicity. This may have led some to speculate that this would be some kind of ‘world jazz’ gig but the music was definitely jazz first and foremost, with the use of electric bass and keyboards definitely placing it at the ‘fusion’ end of the jazz spectrum, MSH’s speciality.

The quartet kicked off with the new tune “Imaginary Cape Town”, Spannocchi’s musical impression of a city he has yet to visit. It wasn’t that obviously South African in feel and definitely not Township Jazz, but it did set the quartet’s stall out nicely. Spannocchi’s opening theme statement and subsequent solo were well supported by Simson’s fluid bass grooves and Hill’s crisp and propulsive drumming. Keane then took over at his Nord Stage Ex keyboard, largely deploying an electric piano sound reminiscent of a Rhodes or a Wurlitzer. He proved to be a dazzling and highly imaginative soloist, coaxing an astonishing sounds out of his instrument in addition to the fallback ‘electric piano’ setting. It was easy to see just why Spannocchi regards him as being such a vital member of the group. The hard hitting Hill was rewarded with a dynamic drum feature before Spannocchi delivered an unaccompanied alto sax cadenza towards the close. A great start, which immediately got the crowd onside.

The tune “Strutting in Six” appears on both the “Perihelion” and “Porgy & Bess” albums and, as its title suggests, is written in 6/4. Despite its rhythmic complexities it’s also melodic and accessible and here provided an excellent launch pad for Spannocchi’s expansive sax soloing,  his alto soaring above that cerebrally funky groove. The central section saw the saxophonist in a more exposed setting, playing above sparse and angular rhythmic accompaniment, but with the music becoming more powerful as the rhythms gradually became more complex and forceful. Keane’s typically inventive keyboard solo was complemented by Simpson’s bass counter melodies and Hill’s powerful drumming, with Keane adopting a funky sound somewhere between a Rhodes piano and a Hohner clavinet. Finally Hill weighed in with another explosive drum feature. Great stuff.

“Pocket of Value” was a title that Spannocchi gave to one of the “collective spontaneous compositions” on the “Live at London Jazz Festival” cassette. It’s now also been applied to a new written piece, which began in loosely structured fashion before adopting a hard driving groove that fuelled the leader’s alto solo. The impressive Simpson then weighed in with a virtuoso electric bass solo. An unaccompanied sax cadenza seemed to signify the end of the piece but Simpson then returned, his bass subtly shadowed by Hill’s drums and then by the celestial, chiming sounds of “In A Silent Way” style keyboards. This section marked the bridging passage as the music segued into a second composition, “The Business”, with Spannocchi stating the melody on sax before Keane took over to solo at the keyboard. This sequence was very much a showcase for Simpson, who was now featured in an unaccompanied electric bass episode, with keys and brushed drums joining in before the close.

The first set concluded with Spannocchi acknowledging the influence of his homeland and of classical music. Based on a combination of a Bach fugue and a scale devised by the American saxophonist / flautist Yusef Lateef “Tempus Fugit”  represented a short, sweet sign off to an excellent first set. The piece was introduced by a passage of unaccompanied keyboard, with Spannocchi subsequently adding wisps of alto sax melody. Finally electric bass and cymbals added discrete rhythmic and textural support.

Spannocchi often begins his compositions with a nagging sax motif or phrase that later expands into a more fully formed melody, this subsequently providing the jumping off point for more expansive improvising. This was the case at the beginning of the second set and the composition “Cafezinho”, a Portuguese phrase meaning “Little Coffee”, inspired by the saxophonist’s visit to Lisbon. It’s also a piece that appears on the “Perihelion” and “London” recordings. A spiky sax motif developed into a powerful and expansive solo, driven by an increasingly propulsive rhythmic groove.  Keane eventually took over at the keys, soloing feverishly and again producing an astonishing range of sounds. I was variously reminded of Joe Armon-Jones of Ezra Collective and of Adam Benjamin of the American quintet Kneebody. Simpson and Hill were then left to enjoy a dialogue of their own, this evolving into a full-on drum feature. An exhilarating start to the second half. Wake up and smell the “Little Coffee”.

The new tune “Dedicated to the Autumn Sun” commenced with a dialogue between Hill’s drums and the leader’s sax, this evolving into a strong melodic theme as the rest of the band were added. The percolating bass and drum grooves seemed to hark back to the previous piece as Keane and Simpson were featured as soloists.

Keane’s unaccompanied keyboard intro to “DKT” eventually led to a rollicking groove that fuelled the leader’s incisive alto sax soloing and Keane’s second excursion at the keyboard, this time underpinned by Simpson’s funky electric bass groove. The finale featured off kilter staccato riffing, with Hill’s drums coming to the fore. Named for the group’s keyboard player (“Danny Keane Tune”) “DKT” is apparently also an Austrian version of the board game Monopoly.

The second set concluded with the new tune “South Lambo”, which again emerged from an opening sax motif to embrace more expansive and powerful soloing from the leader. Keane followed at the keyboard, with Simpson again providing counter melodies. Simpson was also featured as a soloist, again working in conjunction with Hill. Spannocchi’s staccato sax phrases then underpinned a final drum feature from the consistently impressive Hill.

A miserable, murky night with the weather feeling more like November than May had helped to keep audience numbers modest but the those that were there loved it and gave the band a great reception. A number of albums were also sold, always the sign of a successful performance.

The deserved encore was “Uphill Blues”, a tune from the “Perihelion” album. As its title suggests this is a genuine blues and this was a piece that had more a straight-ahead jazz feel. It acted as the vehicle for solos from all four musicians, with the interplay between keyboards and bass again particularly noteworthy. Leader Spannocchi rounded off a successful evening with a final sax cadenza.

It was the first time that I had seen any of these musicians perform live and I was highly impressed with all four of them. There were many instances of individual brilliance but they also cohered very effectively as a band under Spannocchi’s astute leadership.

The playing of Keane caught the eyes and ears of many and he will definitely be a name to look out for in the future. Speaking to him briefly after the show he told me that he works regularly with Ethio-jazz pioneer Mulatu Astatke and also with sitar player Anoushka Shankar. In addition to being a fine pianist / keyboard player he’s also a highly accomplished cellist and has worked widely across a variety of music genres.

My thanks to Danny and Guido for speaking with me after the show. Guido recently sent me a copy of the “Live at London” cassette for review purposes, but I also decided to treat myself to the “Perihelion” and “Porgy & Bess” CDs, which I’ve been listening to as I write. All three recordings are good but on first listening the pick of them is probably “Porgy & Bess”, which captures the excitement of a Guido Spannocchi live performance and also includes a couple of the numbers that we heard tonight. Also Keane gets to play the Club’s grand piano in addition to his electric keyboards, which brings yet another dimension to the music.

Spannocchi has released numerous other recordings in addition to the ones in my possession. For a full discography please visit;



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