March 18, 2018
Tiziano Tononi & Daniele Cavallanti Nexus
Rudi Records RRJ1035
Nearly 40 years after they first recorded, the Nexus group, led by Milan-based tenor saxophonist Daniele Cavallanti and percussionist Tiziano Tononi remains the gold standard for FreeBop ensembles. That’s exploratory international units by the way, for Tononi and Cavallanti, who have also been part of the Italian Instabile Orchestra (IIO) and many other groups, and their band have the skill and smarts to best similar groups outside the boot shaped country.
The newest Nexus conception, this septet also included another IIO veteran, violinist Emanuele Parrini; Francesco Chiapperini who plays bass clarinet, alto saxophone and flute and was in the Milano Contemporary Art Ensemble with Cavallanti; bassist Silvia Bolognesi who is in a string trio with Mazz Swift and Tomeka Reid; vibist Pasqale Mirra, part of Mrafi with Antonio Borghini; and cornetist Gabriele Mitelli who has played with Alexander Hawkins.
At this point, the locked-in grooves with its Blues base that characterize the compositions from Cavallanti and Tononi, which define Nexus are as fundamental as can be expected. So is the potent saxophone articulation, which draws on John Gilmore and Booker Ervin as well as John Coltrane, and the percussion command, which encompasses studied gong resonation and subtle use of Africanized tropes and rhythms. But the elevated tonal interpretations which allow the six tracks to progress forcefully are propelled by the other five players as well.
For instance the Sun Ra-like orchestration of “Nexus Falls” is illuminated by both fiddle-string stopping, shronking alto sax line and Don Cherry-like brassy asides from Mitelli, with dual climaxes via moderated tenor saxophone extensions and a bravura bass drum and cymbal exhibition. Pert vibe work cut through polyphonic expressions by the horns and metallic percussion on “Morocco '73, a Berber blues”, which skirts faux Orientalism by a hair. Meanwhile all of the tracks, most prominently “Soundship (for Sergio U.)" and “Waves Priestess (Sea Song for Jemayà)” depend on Bolognesi’s faultless double-bass bottom, with the latter and slippery swinger where heraldic brass and pinched fiddle tones rip apart then help suture together the theme; and the former’s seamless arrangement leaving space for fluid vibraphone taps, Chiapperini’s bass clarinet undertone and an impassioned tenor saxophone solo.
At nearly 19 minutes, Tononi’s minutes three section “Piece for John Carter” is designed to be the CD showcase, although the heavy percussion splashes, often bring to mind funky James Brown rather than the cerebral clarinetist for which the composition is titled. Bolognesi’s Olympic archer-like plucks and reed riff repetition at diverse pitches, strength and variables add to this idea. Still, squeaky fiddling plus metal bar pops from Parrini lighten the interface enough so that echoes of less rigid African and Caribbean hybrids advanced by the percussionist give the finale an Aylerian-gospelish refrain.
Nexus the band easily lives up to its connective definition. Expressing improvisational zenith is an adjectival phrase that could be applied as well.
Track Listing: 1. Soundship (for Sergio U.) 2. Waves Priestess (Sea Song for Jemayà) 3. Nexus Falls 4. Piece for John Carter a) The rhythm of our awareness b) The struggle c) Free at last, Free at last, Free at last! (pas, de bas de l'eau...) 5. John Gilmore & the Pyramids 6. Morocco '73, a Berber blues
Personnel: Gabriele Mitelli (cornet, pocket trumpet); Francesco Chiapperini (alto saxophone, bass clarinet, flute); Daniele Cavallanti (tenor saxophone, ney); Emanuele Parrini (violin); Pasquale Mirra (vibes); Silvia Bolognesi (bass) and Tiziano Tononi (drums, percussion, gongs)