[13 February 2005]
“Parker’s Mood” is maybe the best sample track from this admirable set. Having performed the standard introductory cadenza, this young Italian saxophonist proceeds to play the theme differently from Parker. He intensifies with a deepening of lyrical tenderness only instrumental masters can achieve.
Not the most intelligent review of recent years (in the German language music magazine Rondo) deplored the fact that di Battista’s American near-contemporary Harry Allen, a brilliant tenor-saxophonist, had been playing gigs with the same three men who featured on Stan Getz’s last tour. In fact, one of the trio is here, Allen’s old teacher Kenny Barron, on piano. The German reviewer seemed to think Allen was being machined as a Getz clone, which was ridiculous and strictly for marketing purposes. It’s very hard to play saxophone significantly without sounding like other saxophonists, and I could recommend anybody to listen for whether Allen’s not so much like Getz, but rather Getz’s sometime colleague Herbie Steward (also, like Allen, worth hearing). At the same time, Allen does live up to his view, quoted as I remember in Alyn Shipton’s very good New History of Jazz, that the possibilities remain infinite, whether of making good music or doing something new.
Sounding like somebody else can also be sounding like yourself. You just resemble them, you’re not a walking biped i-pod.
Shipton follows the veteran English critic Max Harrison in a number of respects, less commendably (though less absolutely) in trying to argue that music which revives other music might have less vivifying effect than efforts to make something entirely new. But in what way new? What seems new in di Battista’s attention to this Parker material is an instrumental finesse more of a pre-Parker generation.
It is, of course, hard not to sound like Parker when playing Parker compositions on alto saxophone, especially up-tempo ones, and inevitably when the tune’s somewhat jerky. But listen to the pianoless performance here of “Hot House”, with Flavio Boltro’s very nice trumpet (individually idiomatic). The saxophonist performs with a wonderful flow somewhat reminiscent of Bobby Watson at his best. On “Round Midnight” there’s something out of Benny Carter, maybe that long-lived master’s later recordings. Carter was, of course, one of numerous altoists who didn’t always sound the same in the course of a year (let alone a seventy year playing career!). He had a voice he could do many things with.
Di Battista’s “Embraceable You”, unlike Woods or Charles McPherson (who supplied the fills on the film Bird and is another individual master), develops the Italian’s softer-toned intonation, which is quite other than Lee Konitz’s. He’s not a Konitz follower. On this sweeping romantic performance, Rosario Buonaccorso paces (basses) beautifully Kenny Barron’s impeccable multinoted piano work, with Herlin Riley’s drumming supplying the accents to keep things moving while Barron explores harmonies. The band sounds fresh and the altoist’s application of a fragment of the tune as a coda is remarkably telling. “Night in Tunisia” manifests Boltro’s flair on trumpet. This is young music, and on the joyous “Confirmation” Barron’s timing isn’t that of an old bopper—the rhythmic outline of the ensembles (hear also “Salt Peanuts”) is also innovative in context—but even that master is seriously challenged by the altoist’s metrical lightness. It’s clear enough how able the bassist and drummer are.
“Laura” opens with some lower notes, veiled, then an upward swoop. You can also remind yourself of Barron’s greatness with his solo here—abandon of delight—before the saxophonist takes off at considerable speed and no loss of tenderness. The lengthy coda is almost flute-like (he is also a master of the, not unlyrical high register, but quiet screech of excitement, as is Joe Lovano). Yes, I did mention Herlin Riley, whose active input helps make this set a pretty good excuse for reviewer’s rhapsody. My first sight of di Battista was within a McCoy Tyner band in which Bobby Hutcherson (who also played particularly well) looked happier than I remember ever having seen any musician. Yes, indeed. Hutcherson’s a fair bit older than I am, but why shouldn’t music—especially like this—perform rejuvenation.