Recorded live in 1994 during an Italian jazz festival, the Schiano/Léandre/Geremia trio proves two things on this gig: one, that there is no trio capable of making improvised music so completely intimate and refined that it sounds as if it were composed, and two: that there is such a thing as musical empathy that transcends even the language of music itself. Blue Memories is a suite: a concerto for jazz and a free improv trio that is so deeply communicated, it reaches past even the listener's prejudices or hopes for a meeting of such high caliber individuals. Mario Schiano plays alto and soprano saxophone here and acts as a kind of conductor while premier bassist and vocalist Joëlle Léandre creates a vast middle ground for not only rhythm but for flights of the imagination -- which she herself often takes. Finally, multi-instrumentalist and longtime Schiano compatriot Renato Geremia doubles on tenor, but also plays everything from clarinet to violin and piano to flute as the piece develops. In the first 14 minutes, the interplay between the three is established. Schiano looks to Léandre to set the tempo, which she does at a trot. Alternately bowing and playing pizzicato, she forms tone fields and harmonic bases from which to ascend. Schiano sets the mood as basic and bluesy, keeping the tempo for a few minutes before slowing it down to a slow stroll as Geremia enters with the violin and sticks an entire set of semi-quavers into the middle to be negotiated equally. The blues-feel, the old, forlorn, melancholy in Schiano's lyrical statement, is taken up with both force and gentility by his bandmates. Geremia and Léandre kick off section two with deeply, sparely plucked bass, and impressionistic, mysterious piano chords creating a rhythmic theme, restrained and paced carefully. It explodes at about nine minutes with Schiano taking the small, timbral embouchures he was slipping between his bandmates and goes full bore, head to head not only with his bassist's instrument, but her voice as well.
Even though it wasn't part of the original gig, but recorded a day before, the trio breaks up their suite -- or rather, the record producers do -- with Léandre's "My Home": a work that showcases her vocal style and open-toned bass playing, heavily chorded and abstracted by the angular structure of the composition. Schiano and Geremia are merely painters on the tune, filling in wherever she needs them to. It proves an interesting break, as the pace and sheer number of instrumental and modal ideas that get introduced in the last two sections of Blue Memories is staggering, moving from classical themes (Mozart, Haydn, Bach, Handel, Geremia) -- to Abdullah Ibrahim's trademark B flat major with a suspended ninth, (Geremia again) and the "Girl From Impanema" -- to free association based on the multi-ribboned sonic approach of John Coltrane in the early '60s and Steve Lacy's advanced harmonic abstracts put forth during the early '70s. From bossa to brassa it's Schiano never letting the noir-ish blues feeling completely slip away from the foreground. Simply put, there is no ensemble playing -- particularly in the improvisational world -- like this at all.