Enzo Zirilli (new album ‘Ten Past Never’ – Ubuntu Music)

“Ten Past Never”, the new, third album from Enzo Zirilli’s ZiroBop, his Anglo-Italian group with guitarists Alessandro Chiappetta and Rob Luft, and bassist Misha Mullov-Abbado, is released on Ubuntu. Feature/interview by Dan Paton:

Dan Paton writes: Drummer/percussionist and jazz educator Enzo Zirilli has established an enduring and impressive career within both his native Italy and in the UK. This has included substantial long-term collaborations with a wide range of musicians (listed in a footnote below). These include Jim Mullen and Ian Shaw (albums with both), Jason Rebello, Antonio Forcione, Quentin Collins, Brandon Allen, Liane Carroll, and a long-standing working relationship with Gilad Atzmon as part of his Orient House Ensemble. Zirilli has also worked for more than two decades with Dado Moroni and Pieranunzi, and plays as part of Peppe Servillo’s Italian Portraits project to celebrate the Italian popular songbook.

As a bandleader, he is now releasing Ten Past Never, his third album with his ZiroBop ensemble. This continues a humorous title format that follows on from its predecessor Ten To Late. The story here is that on one of their early gigs with Zirilli as bandleader, the drummer became nervous and tongue-tied. Someone asked him “What time are we on?” “Ten”, he answered. But then, to the question “What time is it now?”, instead of reassuring his bandmates with the right answer (“Ten to ten!”), Zirilli came back with a slightly panicky, meaningless “Ten to LATE!”. The rest of the band understood intuitively exactly what he meant, but also couldn’t help laughing. It was a moment that became part of the band’s folklore.

Zirilli sees the two albums to be closely related, and in more than just name: the new recording solidifies a connection between the band members in musical interaction and in “sharing feelings”. Both albums were recorded in the same studio near Turin, with engineer Carlo Miori, who has captured the band’s compelling sound very well. Zirilli cites the piece Gangway as another point of connection, as it continues a dedication to one of his musical mentors Andrea Allione that began with the group’s first album, ZiroBop. “I’m glad that a lot of English listeners can discover his music through this interpretation”, Zirilli explains, “and that Rob (Luft) and Misha (Mullov-Abbado) fell in love with his music.” Another important mentor who is remembered here is the late Pino Daniele. “He became a kind of icon for many generations in Italy,” Zirilli says. “It is really important to remember people who have had a big impact in our lives”.

Looking at the tracklist for Ten Past Never on paper (it includes pieces by Charlie Mariano, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Keith Jarrett and Charles Mingus alongside three originals), it might appear as if Zirilli is attempting an overview of the history of jazz music. While Zirilli obviously has tremendous respect for the lineage of the music (“I always tell my students that it is very important to look back – then you can go forward”), this is not an attempt to compile or summarise. “It’s from a pure desire to play songs that we like”, Zirilli says. “It’s not just me – I’m the leader and the elder, but everyone is putting something on the table.”

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Ten Past Never album cover

With two guitarists (Luft and Chiappetta) alongside bass (Mullov-Abbado) and drums, ZiroBop has an open and unique sound. Zirilli first met Luft and Mullov-Abbado when both were still teenagers and was impressed by their musicianship. And as regards Alessandro Chiappetta, Zirilli says: “I realised Alessandro is a great guitarist and I always love to play with him – instead of doing two different trios with Rob and Alessandro, I thought why not do a proper band with both?”. The idea of the “proper band” as a sound and approach is clearly at the heart of ZiroBop’s music. “The first gig I ever went to was Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, when I was ten years old”, Zirilli remembers. “They really play as a rock band in terms of power and dynamics.” He also cites Duke Ellington’s ensembles, John Coltrane’s quartet and the Miles Davis quintet as similar examples.

“I tried to transfer this feeling when putting this band together”, he says. As for the unusual line-up with two guitars, he concedes that there are some precedents, including Paul Motian’s Electric Bebop Band (Brad Schoeppach and Kurt Rosenwinkel) and Peter Erskine’s Bass Desires (Bill Frisell and John Scofield). Given that there are not many, Zirilli can feel glad that “it’s pretty exclusive”. He explains that “the band sounds quite hip because we cover a large spectrum of music – from early jazz to avant garde and African, Indian and South American influences. All the guys are very open minded and it allows you to play in any style at any time.”

Zirilli and the band often seem to have picked music that might most readily be associated with the instrument of its composer – Keith Jarrett’s The Wind Up always feels like a particularly pianistic piece of music. “A pianist’s composition is often the perfect way to somewhere different”, he suggests. “And I like to be a little provocative”. Zirilli also discusses New Lands, an Enrico Pieranunzi composition that the band tackles with great flexibility on Ten Past Never. He explains that Pieranunzi was “really excited” to hear his composition played in this way with two guitarists. Zirilli also emphasises the rhythmic qualities of some of the other composers the band interprets. “Monk was the number one drummer – if you play what Monk plays on a drum set, it sounds like a drum solo. Charlie Parker also played so rhythmically. These guys were drummers in disguise!”

One of the most important qualities Zirilli looks for in musicians he works with is the desire to explore. “Musicians have to be curious”, he says. “When we play, it’s like having many, many doors. You can dip inside one door and then go through another. Jazz is the house of all music – a discipline of freedom and a freedom of discipline.” Zirilli developed his own musical freedom as a young musician in part by practising as quietly as possible late into the night. Like many young drummers, his connection with the instrument began after his mother recognised that he “was playing in the kitchen with everything, on the table”, but the home environment, with many others around, did not necessarily lend itself to constant noise.

As he pursued music more seriously, this need for control over volume became a rigorous approach for Zirilli. “I worked a lot at night, instead of during the day”, he explains. “I was trying to play softly, even with sticks, and if no one complained, I was doing well! Then when you play strong, you really play strong”. This approach can be clearly heard on Ten Past Never, which encompasses the longing romanticism of Zirilli’s own composition Valzer per Silvia (dedicated to his partner), the Latin influences on Mullov-Abbado’s No More Booze, the driving grooves of Rob Luft’s arrangement of Mariano’s Arun, and the interpretation of Monk’s In Walked Bud.

When Zirilli first arrived in the UK, he “didn’t know a single musician personally”, but he quickly established a network. Initially, he worked with Antonio Forcione and Giorgio Serci, and then went to jazz jam sessions where he met established musicians such as Brandon Allen, Quentin Collins and Ross Stanley. Living a transient existence (“in fifteen years living in London, I don’t think I actually stayed in London for more than two weeks at a time”), and admiring the standard of musicians in the city, Zirilli wondered why he had never seen them on the bandstand in Italy.

This became the impetus for his musical exchange programme Radio Londra. Zirilli is frustrated and saddened by the complications Brexit has caused for this kind of endeavour, but remains determined to continue with it. He remembers the shock and sadness all of ZiroBop felt on the announcement of the referendum result (the band were on tour in Italy at the time), but he remains positive, applying the same inspiring principles that inform his music to his promotional and network building activities. “I believe in the human powers in sharing emotions and sharing beauty, so I will keep going.”

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NOTE: Zirilli’s musical collaborations in the UK include work with: Antonio Forcione, Jim Mullen, Quentin Collins, Brandon Allen, Ian Shaw, Liane Carroll, Stan Sulzmann, Hamish Stuart, Omar Lye-Fook, Tina May. Gilad Atzmon (as a member of the Orient House Ensamble), Sarah Gillespie, Ross Stanley, Jason Rebello, Matteo Saggese, John Etheridge, Chris Allard, Johnatan Gee, Giorgio Serci, Nikki Iles, Russell Oliver Stone, Marcus Cliffe, Trevor Jones, Gareth Williams, Mike Gorman, Alex Garnett, Nigel Hitchcock, Mark Nightingale. Terry Pack, Mark Edwards, Tony Kofi and Frank Harrison.

In 2013 Zirilli formed his band, ZiroBop, with guitarists Rob Luft and Alessandro Chiappetta and bassist Misha Mullov-Abbado. There have released the following recordings: ZiroBop (2014) and Ten to Late (2017). Following his appointment as professor of Jazz Drums and Percussion Chair at the Conservatory G.Verdi in 2020, Zirilli returned to his home town, Turin.

LINK: Ten Past Never on Ubuntu


24 February – Smalls (Cuneo)

4 March – Round Midnight (Fisciano, Salerno)

UK: Planned but not yet fixed

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