West of Rome
more jazz vibes at the end of another season

[Tragedy, passion, relegation]

I'm not here to speculate on what might have been. It's been a season of trials and poor judgements. You can only blame the referee for so long, though, until you're left to count the cost, throw salt over your shoulder and caution to the four winds. Such has been Lecce's poor fortune this year- managers shown the back door while the Flying Donkeys, Lucky Luciano's and overpaid Donnie Tabasco's of Serie A consolidated their dominance. Next season we'll be left with no southern interest in the top flight of Italian football at all. I'll salute the way our marauding minotaurs kept fighting their dark corner, Chevanton and Vugrinec blazing firebrands not averse to Cagney-style antics. Uruguayan Chevanton's contemptuous post-goal celebration stands as a defiant image, stamping with bared studs on a hoarding protecting eager photographers. Made it, mamma, top of the world. Top that for bare knuckle temperament. Though that's not the story you'll see on Channel 4, no sirree. Still, way down south things will remain pretty much the same, and a new wave of impulsive goatherds will return to set things to rights in the money-spinning capitals of football. Shit-kicking wops joined in the brotherhood of the grape, as my hero Fante would call them.

[Oriflammes and Dithyrambs]

My recent listening has refuelled my obsession with the vibes in all their stringent glory and malleability. Alistair has been talking of Boettcher and the West Coast in full flow of late. My Rev-Ola reissue of the Boettcher spin-off Eternity's Children (I made the near-fatal error of calling them Destiny's Children in a moment of arrant confusion, something in the ale down in Exeter) is now playing, from my Tangent speakers. Since I moved into a bigger room in the same house I've placed these speakers on top of a high bookshelf and a wardrobe in opposing corners of the room, and the effect has been revelatory. Extra layers of detail, and the impact of music that had got lost in the soupy fog of over-proximity. Now the blues and deep reds of musical invention can focus their magic without choking you with sardine tin compression. In small bursts Boettcher's young team capture the imagination, sending you to places previously best served by streetcars named Sebastian, Cass and Yanovsky. The tinkling vibes buried in the mix of these recordings add to the tang of summer-filled luminosity. The vocal harmonies on 'Mrs Bluebird' untangle a rich skein of melodic invention. They reach under the skin and remind you of the pop possibilities in letting voices and primitive techniques flower in their logical breeding ground. As many a jangly indie crew of the mid-80's would testify, there's plenty of mileage to be wrung out of a 'fa-fa-fa-fa-fa' chorus. The ageing Mrs Bluebird addressed in the song could be a faded southern belle from a Tennessee Williams play or a songbird singing its last on a late afternoon stroll. There's a hothouse atmosphere behind the wilting parade of nature boy references. These delights could only have been plucked from a rarefied wayside- the rolling organ fixes you with its glare on 'Sunshine and Flowers' and reminds you of the liquid gold to be found in them thar hills, if you're the prospecting type that is.

It's a substance that seeps through every groove of the thick black vinyl of my copy of Astral Weeks. It's a record that urgently needs to be replayed and wondered at. While Van Morrison is no doubt living a stone's throw from the likes of dubious Eddie Irvine these days, hearing the record again reminded me of the jazzy possibilities he was exploring. In his own way he was staging a musical breakthrough into ecstatic rapture that is all too rare today. Punishing and pummelling into submission the instruments of his craft, literally biting the hands that feed him in the course of this epic emotional workout. Not many outside Cecil Taylor could aspire to these heights of destructive frenzy, and in Van's case he couldn't sustain this momentum. It has the stamp of an authentic beginning all over it, while Cecil begins every performance as if the end has already been reached and nothing remains but to reenact that utter surrender into profanity and physical contortion. Taylor the ballet dancer, feeding his machine-gun reflexes into the seductive body of his instrument. Van singing at every opportunity of the red shoes of the dancer, the ballerina in a frenzy of implosive movements. The vibes feature heavily here, trickling or hammering their path of memory pain into the stitches of these songs. The stargazing goatherd composes his songs of pain and reverie, stuttering on the outside of language, leaving faint clues as to the origins of his howls or entranced words. Cecil Taylor pursues the same obsessive lengths of verbal diaspora in his poetry, as heard on such records as Tzotzil Mummers Tzotzil. Whatever the cause of his lament, it's profound, hurts like a dental extraction without anaesthetic and refuses to let you go. Similarly, Van stages meandering encounters with his anathemas and exorcisms, leaving a temporary breath of repose with the fade-out of 'Slim Slow Slider'. A slithering work in progress, a rattlesnake torn apart by wolfhounds, but the rattle twitches still, taunting its predators.

[Return of Django]

Giorgio Gaslini, he's a gas gas gas, should be a popular cry on the terraces. Jumpin' George has been a pivotal figure in bringing a European sensibility to the American jazz heritage, as crucial as Komeda and still at the peak of his powers. A pioneer innovator, having absorbed the rich African-inflected heritage of Coltrane and the ESP catalogue, he proposed a new form of synthesis known as Total Music. It's more than just a tag for me, it's as evocative as the Total Football played by the great Dutch team of Cruyff and co. Scoring soundtracks for horror maestro Dario Argento and Michelangelo Antonioni set him firmly on the map, and showed his skill in leaping freely between deep red bloodbaths (Profondo Rosso) and the fine-tuned existential angst of La Notte. There's a great shot of him and his band on the set of the latter, with Jeanne Moreau reclined regally behind the group, lapping up the music in poised abandon. Not only could he play the highbrow European composer with aplomb, but his small group toured factories and mental hospitals in the ferment of the late 60's. While Boulez was advocating blowing up the opera houses, Gaslini was going several steps further and turning the workplace into a frontline of audacious activity. A Pasolini-inspired subversion of the institution, setting Vesuvius aglow on the Fiat assembly line. This was agit-jazz-prop, taking the corrosive screams straight out of Ayler's horn and giving them new life in marginal surroundings.

I hate straight homages and thoughtless, redundant cover versions in all forms of music, so why should the Ark of Free Jazz be ransacked without engaging with the substance of the music first? In interpreting the likes of Monk and Ayler on solo piano albums for Soul Note, Gaslini has thrown away the rulebook and the commonplace lines of attack. His approach to Monk is delivered from an archly skewed perspective, tongues of flame playfully licking around familiar themes like 'Round About Midnight' (a later vocal version is sublimely translated as 'E Quasi Mezzanotte, Mister Monk') or 'Let's Cool One'. There's an eerie hint of horror mayhem at times when our solo pianist introduces unexpected percussive effects, making you sit bolt upright as you wonder where his encounter with the levitating spirit of Thelonious will lead him. His Ayler disc is similarly shocking, if for opposite reasons. He takes the core of Ayler's emotional content from the frenetic blaze of horns and drums and translates them for solo piano. In place of fire and brimstone he plots carefully charted lines of rhapsodic intent. For him Ayler's is the music of transport, emotional and physical. It shouldn't be contained within the confines of a 'free' tradition which can be as much of a straitjacket as a liberation. Finally, Ayler's muse is a thing of flitting grace, momentary hints of enlightenment, ghosts plying found memories and lost objects from voice to voice.

His new venture is another thing of reckless invention and beauty. Enigma, again on the impeccable Soul Note, features his Proxima Centauri orchestra of crack Italian jazz marksmen. Alberto Mandarini and Warner Borgia on trumpet are surely assumed names, and they bring a harlequin verve to their roles in these new creations. Gaslini finds room to tackle Sun Ra's beguiling 'Lanquidity' in this foreign setting. The reworking bustles with intuitive energy, like a trader in a Neapolitan street market with a new crop of peaches to sell and none to give away to plain-clothed Popes (there's a killer scene in Ringolevio that retells that true story). There's a spiky interplay between his horned forces and the obligatory vibes on the 'Enigma' suite itself, showing how he hasn't lost his determination to blend the chromatic, post-serial and atonal into a challenging rainbow of thematic devices and reflective interludes. Still, such is the man's control of his unit, there is plenty of space for individuals to improvise around his leading voice on piano. This isn't the bombastic rhetoric you'd associate with Hammer horror, more the gently corrupting interrogation of innocence and disguise in a Val Lewton film. Gaslini takes us on a marine voyage across the wide Sargasso sea. He may walk with the zombies, but these flesh-eating herds don't bite here. Just remember to put out the garlic.

© Marino Guida 2002