Live reviews

Reviews and dispatches from the SienaJazz International Summer Workshop (2): Two Quintets of Siena Jazz Masters in the Piazza Provenzano

  • Maurizio Giammarco / Lage Lund / Kevin Hays / Furio di Castri / Ettore Fioravanti
  • Sara Serpa / Michael Mayo / Fulvio Sigurtà / Roberto Cechetto / Matt Penman

(Piazza Provenzano, Siena. 25 July 2022. Live Review by Sebastian Scotney)

L-R: Michael Mayo, Sara Serpa, Matt Penman, Roberto Cecchetti, Fulvio Sigurtà. Phone snap

Jazz in general, and Summer Schools in particular, visibly build and strengthen the community of musicians. Lasting friendships are made, generations find what they have in common rather than divides them. And one of the places where those bonds are established is in live performance. This Summer School is only just getting under way, and the students will have their turn later. So this second concert of the Summer School was an opportunity for some of the faculty of tutors to show the way, to give a visible demonstration of how it’s done.

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The two halves of the concert were neatly contrasted in a way that was not just didactically clear but also very clever. Essentially, jazz musicians have a choice: they can either find a meeting-ground in a setting where no sheet music is needed, playing music that everyone knows (that was the first half)…. or they can undertake the same process by going on a voyage of discovery by interpreting music that only the composer of the piece knows in depth. In this case, the other musicians are seekers, explorers. They have to put their trust in their instincts and their ears…and, since the concert takes place in a square which is home to a swirling (though also welcome and cooling) evening breeze, in clothes-pegs.

L-R: Kevin Hays, Maurizio Giammarco, Furio di Castri, Lage Lund, Ettore Fioravanti. Phone snap

The first sheet-music-less set was from a quintet of three Italian eminences in their sixties, and two American-based musicians from younger generations, the New York-born pianist Kevin Hays and the Norwegian-born guitarist Lage Lund. Their set was entirely of Thelonious Monk tunes such as “Eronel” (in what sounded like a high-spec arrangement with some extra non-standard rhythmic games built-in), “Evidence”, “Monk’s Dream” and “Misterioso”.

The playing of the Italians, perhaps responding to the outdoor circumstances and in anticipation of ambient chatter from the edges of the square, tended to be positive, assertive, strong, muscular. All three are musicians with huge experience, but their appearances outside Italy are relatively rare nowadays. Drummer Ettore Fioravanti plays with subtlety but always with clear intent and power when he needs it, and he is well-matched by the positivity and the strong sound of bassist Furio Di Castri. Saxophonist Maurizio Giammarco, who did all of the spoken introductions, is the kind of player who has a very clear sense of what and how much he has to say, leaving plenty of space in his improvised lines. He is never going to be the player who crowds out a texture with unnecessary material.

It takes contrasting personalities and intentions to form an interesting group, and what stays in my mind is how the two Americans were able to use the solid backbone given by the Italians, mainly to roam freer, gentler, softer. The balance of the sound in the square was so good that all that finesse and mystery was completely audible, certainly from my seat close to the front. I have one definite highlight. Monk’s “Ask Me Now” is such a wonderfully descriptive and evocative tune, with divine twists and turns. (If I was entering a Pseud’s Corner metaphor competition, I would say it is a tune like one of the winding up-and-down streets of Siena). Kevin Hays played it first unaccompanied, opening up its magic unforgettably. A very special moment.

Applause for Mayo, Serpa, Penman, Sigurtà, Cecchetti. Phone snap

Two singers…a guitar…a trumpet/flugelhorn…an acoustic double bass. Sounds…er…interesting! For their voyage of discovery (with clothes-pegs), three of the five had brought compositions. How, what does a first-time listener try to take in from a set like this? Perhaps above all (this is entirely personal and based on the limitations of my musical ears) it is to to listen how pairs of musicians function together to give the others something to work with or against. Very often, it was the plucked-string pairing of Roberto Cecchetti and Matt Penman which provided the rhythmic/harmonic basis, the core for one or more of the melody-providers to search for something propitious. Or the ego-less combination of the very different yet curiously well-matched voices of Sara Serpa and Michael Mayo. If people want to make things work, they will.

My highlight was Serpa’s tune “Object”. It gets under way wordlessly from her, and if the opening phrases are intended to sound like an illustration of simplicity and candour, then nobody should be fooled. What is coming from that single melodic line is going to be delivered, disarmingly, as if a child could do it, with a smile…but where we are going is intervallically complex, rhythmically challenging. With its implied harmonics, this is some of the most devilishly complex music you will hear all year. And that makes the task of everyone else on stage to prove that they can hack it, find ways to interact with it, find meaning in it. At this level of musicianship – obviously – and with students watching, it is going to work, but the stratagems, the experience required to make that happen, were a total inspiration, as was Serpa’s utterly unshakeable purpose. The way Fulvio Sigurtà in particular worked around the line to make sense of it maybe even gave the idea that unity of purpose can emerge if there is a will to make it happen.


Dal Buongoverno. Public Domain.

That’s the review, now the dispatch…. Having witnessed as much appalling government as we have in the UK since the arrival of a government (and a low-grade Billy Bunter tribute act) completely averse to telling the truth…a pilgrimage to the Museo Civico to see the “Allegoria ed effetti del Buono e del Cattivo Governo” (Allegory and Effects of Good and Bad Government) felt not just desirable but necessary. This is a cycle of frescoes by Ambrogio Lorenzetti from the 1330s, preserved in the Museo Civico.

But there’s a problem. It turns out that good government here is currently in restoration until “forse Ottobre” (in other words probably October but don’t hold your breath), and is only currently available to purchase, in the form of jigsaws, 3-D greeting cards, tote bags or pencil cases.

Or by watching how jazz musicians go about their business, being authentic and creating temporary alignments and structures that work. Every day of the year.

Sebastian is the guest in Siena of Siena Jazz.

LINK: Siena Jazz

Categories: Live reviews

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