Thursday, October 11, 2012


By Claudio Botelho
“If you haven’t heard of Phronesis, you probably live in the United States, the most ethnocentric and isolated of the world’s jazz markets. Phronesis is one of the hottest new piano trios in Europe. Their previous recording, Alive, also on the British label Edition, was named “Jazz Album of the Year” in several UK polls in 2010.” (Thomas Conrad, Stereophile magazine, September/2.012 issue).

Why is this? Why the Americans don’t look around? Why the substantial majority of that country senators never left their homeland, even as simply tourists? Are they different specimens of the so called “human race”? Were they, in the beginning of the human race, made from another clay, so that their heritage has given birth to a people with different feelings?
It’s common knowledge that Americans consume 40% of all things produced in this planet and that the population extant is around three hundred million people; some 4 to 5% of the people on earth.
To have such a high rate of consumption is to have an equally prodigious rate of activity and this, as we all know, have brought together many, many, many novelties; an uncommon number of inventions; from the now ubiquitous blue jeans, in the early days of last century (or at the end of its antecedent), to some fantastic photographs of Mars we’ve been receiving from Curiosity these days. This is just to show two examples more than one hundred years apart one from the other. Meanwhile, Internet; Google; Facebook…
That country has a wide variety of climates, has an Atlantic and a Pacific coasts and, excepting volcanoes, their people had to learn to deal with all sorts of nature phenomena. It’s been leading the world for some hundred years now and, no wonder, its people have a lot to do at home!
So, Mr. Conrad, I don’t think your fellow countrymen are that ethnocentric: they just don’t have much time to wander around. (Not so long ago, they thought we’d been all living in a jungle here in Brazil and that Buenos Aires was our Washington D.C!)
I’m at ease to say this, for some reasons: Mr. Conrad has been writing about jazz for more than twenty years now; was born in the US; has travelled abroad frequently; specializes in writing about jazz piano trios and, finally, is quite right when he says Americans don’t know much what happens outside their country. But, who knows, maybe some tangible reason may exist: just like the one above…
Thus, I just wanted to bring an explanation I find logical, something I feel may give a little light on this subject; a finding which could lead us to believe the humans are made from the same piece of cloth and that, as a general rule, behavior differences result from distinct circumstances of life. IMHO…
No doubt there’s a plethora of excellent jazz musicians in other countries and I would say Italy is in the forefront. I’m sure it’s a pity to keep the Americans from enjoying so many great jazz players scattered around the world.
To listen to musicians like Claudio Filippini, Piero Frassi, Dario Carnovale, Max Ionata, Rita Marcotolli, Lorenzo Tucci, Luciano Biondini, Ricardo Fioravanti, Antonio Faraò, Danilo Rea, Luigi Martinale, Antonio Principe, Ettore Carucci, Juri Dal Dan, Vicenzo Danize, Giovanni Mirabassi, most of them piano players and all from Italy, is an exercise of sophistication and good taste. (Note: I purposely missed Enrico Pieranunzi, Stefano Bollani, Francesco Cafiso, Paolo Fresu, Enrico Rava and Franco D’Andrea. It would be a no-brainer listing…)
I could include many more names of equally qualified musicians as, in that country, there’s a constant flow of new breeds of wonderful musicians which Americans should take notice. These days, I find myself mostly listening to Italian jazzmen for the simple fact that they’ve been producing more jazz than the Americans. At least the jazz that appeals to me.
I don’t know if Mr. Wynton Marsalis would have an explanation for this occurrence, but it seems to me those Europeans are more in tune with the established cannons of jazz, maybe a bit more akin to the way of playing of the east cost of the US and, so, less New Orleanesque than that jazzman would like. Certainly, out of reverence for an idiom they’re lending from the Yankees. I feel it looks like they’re a bit more traditionalists, less adventurous, so to speak, than their American counterparts. You see, I’m talking about music structure; I’m trying to say they seem to follow the patterns of music construction more conservatively than the others from this side of the Atlantic Ocean, without, nevertheless, detracting an iota from their creativity which, as in any art they profess, speaks unusually high.
(As a matter of the fact, along the years, I have witnessed that, from time to time, come up groups which try to substitute the sheer beauty of the music itself for different and even extravagant ways of playing, in an effort to, relying on freshness, attract attention to themselves. It’s a trick which has no lasting consequences, unless it comes along with real meaning; a stirring value in the realms of music. Otherwise (and that is almost always the norm), as fast as they arrive, they vanish into forgetfulness…
The specialized press and those seekers of novelties frequently rush into spreading the “newness” of the season, each for different reasons, just to discover, a little later, they were too hurried and that they should have taken it easier. Meanwhile, some undue credits were given without the necessary sound basis…)
Europeans, by and large, maybe reflecting their older culture, are more cautions and, in spite of the cost of being taxed conservative, have taken the path to polish their art and present it in a more orthodox way. Those who indulge to jazz are closer to the classical conservatories, and this is easy to recognize in their works.
Is this a characteristic which may diminish their endeavors? I don’t think so: if, one strives to get into the unknown, the other rather perfects his efforts, investing in solidity. We need both of them: the adventurers and the perfectionists and each have their admirers… A blend of both would make this art perfect.
The greatness of the American consumer market would benefit a lot the jazz if it could embrace more incisively the works done in other places of the planet. We, “Amazonians” bellow the equator line, would be very much pleased, as none of Amazon affiliates in other countries sports such an exuberance of used CD’s marketers.
In the meantime, while this doesn’t happen, I advise you all (Americans or not) to listen to the following outings of American jazzists which have caught my attention these days:

1- Jessica Williams – Song of Earth. A solo piano of her own compositions which, more than any others, she knows how to play. For my taste, the best of her recent releases. To buy this CD is also to help her recovering from a recent spine surgery which has prevented her from playing and, so, earn her living.
2- Eddie Daniels & Roger Kellaway – Live at the Library of Congress. Two stupendous musicians, playing in an equally stupendous place, captured in a pristine recording. One of the greatest duos of my recent memory. Roger Kellaway – a magnificent piano player at all counts – recovered here from some erratic performances he’s been doing lately. Daniels proves he’s one of the premiere players around.
3- Orrin Evans – Freedom. Along with Dwayne Burno on bass and either Byron Landhan or Anwar Marshall on drums, with the occasional help of Larry Mckenna on sax, Evans shows he’s not a me-too player. This is a new voice to be followed. Mckenna’s contributions are addictive, in a way many simply don’t know how to do…
4- Randy Halberstadt – Parallel Tracks. It’s a real pity Halberstadt is so lazy and records so little. A strong pianist, with an impressive array of resources. What he does when he’s not in the studios?
5- Dena DeRose - Travelin' Light. Her best I've ever heard. She and herself at the piano have done some insightful renderings of great American standards in Belgium, in a live recording. For my taste, way ahead previous efforts she's done.
6- Ahmad Jamal - Blue Moon. Grandiose and subtle. Continuous alternation of moods, rhytms, you name it. A completness seldon heard from any player. A real master.

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