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CD LR 291


Dolmen Orchestra Conducted By Nicola Pisani Featuring Linda Bsiri, Michel Godard and John Surman 

Sequenze Armoniche ( Some Gregorian Reflections )

Release date: 2000

Single CD (audio): GBP 10.00
listen CD_LR_291
It would be a big mistake to think that the Italian Instabile Orchestra is the only big band on the vibrating Italian new music scene.

We have a piece of news for everybody - IIO has a rival in the name of Dolmen Orchestra which matches IIO in every respect.

Here is 76 minutes of music based on the famous Gregorian chant, and performed live by a 19-strong Apulian big band; triumphant in the Italian new music scene!

The total time is 76'16

Liner Notes

( Collapse liner notes )

For one of those temporal/geographical coincidences that sometimes happen in
all the arts, a generation of new, talented and daring players came from the
Italian region of Apulia in the last years. Some of them like Pino Minafra
and Roberto Ottaviano have already enjoyed a well-deserved international
recognition, but others wait to be "discovered": among them Gianni Lenoci,
Vittorino Curci, Marcello Magliocchi, Vincenzo Mazzone. Even more
interesting, for "purely" artistic reasons as well as for its
social/economic implications, is the emergence of a musicians' association,
Musicisti Italiani Associati (MIA), with the aim of providing a forum for
collective experience, a tool for concert promoting, and workshop orchestra
to try out new ideas. This might not sound new in fact it recalls what
groups of creative improvisers have been doing in places like Chicago or
London in the last 30 years but for the South of Italy is doubly relevant:
as a resistance point against the degradation brought by the deadly
combination of economic and cultural poverty,  and as an affirmation of the
possibility to operate collectively rather than as isolated, if musically
relevant, personalities.
Over the years the workshop orchestra of MIA consolidated and attracted a
host of excellent musicians the region is well known for its brass band
tradition for example and became a true contemporary "jazz composers'"
orchestra; in parallel, the programmatically titled Festival "Jazz e Altro"
("Jazz and Something Else", but Altro in Italian is the Other too) from 1995
on brought music to a variety of towns, squares, churches, castles and even
stone quarries. Apulia, a long region located in the heel of Italian boot,
is teeming with natural beauties, and archaeological riches from prehistoric
to baroque: among them, right in the area from which the musicians of MIA
come, several menhirs, huge standing rocks of uncertain origin, and dolmens,
another megalithic structure in the shape of a portal. For its position,
Apulia is now the point of entry of clandestine refugees crossing the
Adriatic sea at its narrowest point with all kind of boats. In the past it
was  most open to Eastern influences and even invasions: in Barletta a giant
bronze statue of Marcian recalls the days of the Roman Empire of Byzanthium,
and  Otranto was even held for a year by the Ottomans when that other Empire
was at the top of its expansion.
So, within the 1995 Festival the Dolmen orchestra began to work on this idea
by Nicola Pisani: a suite of compositions all based on the notes of a famous
Gregorian melody, the Victimae Paschali Laudes. Gregorian chant, which had a
brief brush of notoriety a few years ago (with interesting legal/economic
implications about artistic copyright property) was allegedly regularised in
the Sixth century by Pope Gregory The Great, but its body of melodies is
clearly much more ancient, the origins well beyond any kind of musical
notation. Several elements link it to contemporary practices: it is modal,
without harmonic resolution, and uses the eight admitted church modes;  it's
in free time, so the notes adapt to the text. This sequence is sung for
Easter, it is attributed to the eleventh century monk Wipo of Burgundy who
probably used an existing sequence and has been reused endless times, for
example in the Lutheran chorale Christ ist Erstanden: so the Dolmen
Orchestra renditions are really only the latest ring of a long chain in
which musicians of every age relived the tradition according to the changed
feeling of the times.
After its first edition the project seemed very promising, so it was
expanded commissioning other pieces in Italy and abroad; in 1997 and 1998 it
found a satisfactory balance between "local" and invited composers, and from
that performances these live recording came. The five pieces are penned by
Nicola Pisani, instigator of the project, Marco Sannini and Nico Marziliano,
trumpet and piano players of the Dolmen orchestra, Claudio Lugo,
saxophonist, composer and arranger from Genua that found a special
congeniality with the Apulian organization, and Michel Godard. The
tuba/serpent player was a natural candidate for the project as he had
already independently recorded a project with a Gregorian choir, including
in it Victimae Paschali Laudes, the same sequence that Pisani choose for the
Dolmen project, on which he after also based his lovely Ferma l'Ali (Stop
The Wings).Godard was invited as a guest soloist for the whole project,
together with the perfectly suited voice and sea trumpet of Linda Bsiri;
baritonist Pisani had probably his say in the choice of the thirdsoloist,
British John Surman, whose vast and varied career had yet to include a
similar experience.
Sannini's Sequenza handily includes the original theme at the begininng and
the end even if I personally think that a familiarity  with a
"traditional" recording of the Laudes would enrich the experience of
listening to this CD. In fact Sannini immediately transmigrates it to a
basso ostinato, over which the sections of the Orchestra cross intricate
polyrhythms before giving way the weighty voices of Surman's baritone and
Godard's tuba. The percussion section of the Dolmen, Aldo Bagnoni and
Antonio Dambrosio, shines through; to them on this occasion Armanda
Desiderj, saxophonist Vittorio Gallo and Sannini himself add more weight. At
slightly over 8 minutes Wodoyotha by Claudio Lugo, is the shortest track on
the record. Improvisation is introduced here in a context more reminiscent
of contemporary composition than of jazz. The orchestra navigates
brilliantly the complex score, and repeated listenings to the quick moving
piece reveal its evocative power; over the suspended, tense atmosphere
created by the orchestral score Surman is heard on soprano with  the whole
saxophone section of Dolmen, Mezzina, Gallo and Partipilo.
In Contemplation for a Sacral Sequence, by Nico Marziliano, Pasquale
Gadaleta on contrabass is again called to play a central role, this time
stating the melody with a singing tone; Surman, on soprano, follows with a
plangent tune; the orchestra answers like a penitents' choir to the tuba's
dramatic peroration and to the return of the saxophone, and the dramatic
effect is strenghtened when orchestra members are called to sing under Linda
Bsiri's voice. I was lucky to hear this piece come alive in a very different
incarnation with Tim Berne soloing at the 1999 MIA Festival, a sign of the
intrinsic strength of the composition; in that performance the blues and the
ancient song magically met. Ferma l'Ali is the Godard composition already
mentioned: in it the voice goes properly back to the words of the original
tale, and a dialogue between the flute of Paola Cicolella and the french
horn of Michele Marrano is a welcome showcase for two of the excellent
soloists of the orchestra. The arcane voice of serpent tells its tale,
accompanied by the low, humming sound of the sea trumpet, ancient single
string instrument, suddenly contrasted by a lively trumpet solo, Sannini's
airy voice brightening the atmosphere before the return of the ancient
melody in a rhythmic and melodic variation, from which Surman's soprano
improvisation moves farther and farther away.
For Sequenza Armonica by Nicola Pisani the orchestra features the voice and
tampoura of Giovannangelo De Gennaro, who leads the piece after an
improvised prelude of the three foreign guests, lending a different colour
to the music; the orchestra interjects with billowing, dense chords or
Stravinskyian heavy rhythmic figures, while the female voices range from
churchy to popular lines and colors, and ample space is given to Surman's
baritone to develop his discourse, the orchestra offering different
backgrounds over which the saxophone intoxicatingly rides. An impressive
percussion trio with Bagnoni, Dambrosio and Desiderj leads the piece to the
finale, with the two voices intertwining.
The Dolmen Orchestra proves itself a very flexible unit, with a nice sound
where precious resonances are given by flute, french horn and clarinet;
obviously the lessons of Gil Evans and Duke Ellington are there, but they
mix effortlessly with the rest of the rich, deep background that these
musicians demonstrate: it's a pity that a musician like Felice Mezzina, a
key figure in the MIA, its Orchestra and its Festival, doesn't get solo
space this time. The collective sound, and the way the sections create
distinct, transparent layers of sound show how fruitful their work together
has been; the integration of composition and improvisation, inspired by the
work of Bruno Tommaso and Eugenio Colombo, allows them to reach further back
to their musical roots without renouncing the jazz influences, on the
contrary, finding in it once again the perfect vehicle for yet another
season of creativity.

Francesco Martinelli
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