Actis Band

Leo CD LR 462

Most antic of contemporary Italian improvisers, reedist Carlo Actis Dato regularly performs in multi-colored costumes complete with cloth fez. Although a charter member of significant ensembles like the Italian Instable Orchestra, he never lets solemnity get in the way of levity and imparts a broad sense of humor along with superior musicianship.

His helpmates in the Actis Band are second saxophonist Massimo Rossi, guitarist Karsten Lipp, drummer Dario Bruna, plus Federico Marchesano on electric bass. On this CD’s 10 high-octane originals, the result is a marriage of funk, folklore and freeform. Imagine Julius Hemphill at his bluesiest, R&B honker Leo Parker and James Brown’s JBs performing horas and tarantellas at an Italian wedding and you’ll get an inkling of the result.

Rubato and staccato, with frequent time and tempo changes balancing precariously on top of Bruna’s backbeat, a variety of additional influences from Arabic to Hard Rock riddle the tunes. Marchesano’s accompaniment heads for surf sounds when he’s not walking, while the sibilant screams and echoing split tones from the saxophonists touch on rock as often as Energy Music. Using a vibrato as wide as the Mediterranean, on baritone saxophone Actis Dato often provides a rhythmic ostinato to Rossi’s mewling altissimo forays and triple-tongued glissandi.

With constant beat-mongering and parades of tremolo note inflections encouraging the party atmosphere, Allende is intelligent good-time music. If there’s a weakness, it’s that, except for the atmospheric “Kamakura” with its sul ponticello bass lines, serpentine guitar reverb and smeary horn obbligatos, the band never relaxes. With every tone stretched to its limit, shading and contrast are lacking among the dazzling sonic colors.

— Ken Waxman