…it brings something novel to what is classified as jazz.

Parco Della Musica MPR148CD

Franco D’Andrea (piano, compositions); Tonino Batista (conductor); Eduardo Rojo (arrangements); with the Jazz Ensemble and the PMCE Parco Della Musica Contemporanea Ensemble

Recorded 11-13June2022

Sketches of the 20th Century (2023), an album by the Italian jazz pianist and composer Franco D’Andrea (b. 1941), garnered my interest immediately because of its mixture of composed and improvised music through two octets—one jazz and one classical–that result in a rich and varied sound stage.

The strings are never an afterthought – they are an intimate part of the music. The thoughtful arrangement of songs—both the order and composition—are recorded with such mastery that listening to the album feels like watching your favorite film for the first time.

This Sketches album reflects an interesting development in D’Andrea’s song composition. He has recorded approximately 160 records since he started in the early 1970s.

He has recorded in groups of all sizes as well as solo. He records with his various groups and teaches. Multiple Italian awards have been bestowed on him including Top Jazz Award, organized by Musica Jazz magazine, as Best Italian Musician in twelve different years. Although Sketches results from years of experience, its inception was serendipitous.

The liner notes describe a fortuitous meeting between Eduard Rojo (arranger) and Franco D’Andrea which was the genesis of the album. During this meeting, the two men listened to a song originally written by D’Andrea but arranged anew by Rojo.

For the album, their method of working was for D’Andrea to record freely improvised pieces from which Rojo would extract ideas, phrases, grooves, or some other aspect from the recordings. Although Rojo developed these into longer compositions ranging from one to six minutes in length, they do not include drawn-out passages. This refined approach to improvisation required the talent of several groups of musicians to execute.

The tight arrangement of sounds from sixteen musicians gives this music its unique sound and feel. Jazz Ensemble, a traditionally-formed octet provides the jazz underpinnings of the compositions.

The other contributor is the Parco Della Musica Contemponranea Ensemble (PMCE), a classical octet playing largely composed elements. Yet, neither group is bound by its history or genre. Soloists glide over the composed parts without the stiffness and atonality of some modern creative music. Songs are not traditionally structured; instead, the songs evolve without repeating motifs or stanzas. This is engaging music, exciting in its transitions and arrangements.

A distinctive quality of this album appears in the opener, ‘Pelog Area’. Here, D’Andrea’s thoughtful piano is surrounded by the band. The second song, ‘M2 + M7’, contains a tenor trombone solo over a progressive base. This is typical of the album – soloists are buoyed by

the rest of the band. The band neither removes instruments nor carves out a quiet space for the soloist. The group plays as an organic whole.

Later in the album, composition and improvisation create emergent unique sounds. ‘P5’ opens with stylized drums and features a saxophone solo by Tino Tracanna, who first recorded with D’Andrea in 1978. ‘Distinguished Area 1’ opens with a swirly mysterious section, transitions to drums and piano followed by the horns. The horns dance around while the rest of the band propels it along with striking string arrangements. Interspersed on the album are the two songs written exclusively by D’Andrea.

‘Altelena’ starts as a simple melody played by the piano and simple percussion that morphs into something entirely different with some horn acrobatics and horn choruses before returning to the opening melody. ‘Six Bars’ is a zippy arrangement with darting piano against upbeat horn choruses.

The song ‘M2 New Version’ is the most traditional jazz piece that begins in a minimalist mode and the band joins in. The band plays in unison with a clarinet soloing that leads to a delicate piano, drums, and percussion interlude. The combination of D’Andrea songs and Rojo’s arrangements is unique to these ears. The songs are evolutionary compositions neither taking jazz forms nor classical forms as their base but are a synthesis of the two.

This album is a must-listen. The style and breadth of the compositions and the arrangement of classical string instruments with traditional jazz conventions are unique. There aren’t any specific comparisons to be made to this music; it brings something novel to what is classified as jazz.

Reviewed by Ed Sapiega