Here is a second volume in Splasc(h)'s '60s jazz reissue series -- the first being Mario Schiano's Original Sins featuring material from 1967-1970. The presentation on Ecstatic is somewhat misleading, as Gruppo Romano Free Jazz is really just Schiano with many of the ensemble players from the first volume: namely Giancarlo Schiaffini on trombone, ocarina, and baritone flugelhorn; Schiano on alto and soprano saxophone; Marcello Melis on bass and toy guitar; and Franco Pecori on drums. It's confusing as to why the heading after their name on the album cover is 1966/67, and the Schiano Trio's is followed by the years 1969/1970, since the music here was recorded in April 1970. No matter; despite the somewhat dodgy recording quality (a non-professional job if there ever was one) the music is awesome. The idea of free improvisation for this quartet was truly a jazz idea: themes and variations are spouted all over the place and are mostly picked up on and taken elsewhere before a new one comes into the fray. The Gruppo Romano Free Jazz band played with Schiano gently holding the wheel and steering them toward a rhythm-based improvisational language. Simply put: This is free jazz with plenty of soul. The other tracks -- five through nine -- are actually from an album called If Not Ecstatic We Refund. These tracks amount to Gruppo Romano's rhythm section and Schiano minus Schiaffini. Here the material is improvisational and vanguard to be sure, but it is also melodically oriented toward the improvisational elements. Schiano is a supreme melodist; his lyrical ideas are based in both the blues and folk musics of antiquity, and his heart and mind come from the center of jazz innovation. The combination of these elements in Schiano's work always results in music that is challenging, forward-looking, and full of passionate warmth. Check out the title cut that goes from a tarantella to a ballad to a free blowout and back for over 18 minutes (with some nifty quotes from "India" in the middle). Also notable is the prominence of the rhythm section, especially Bruno Tommaso's bass playing, which feels like another drum most of the time, firing off pizzicato phrases in three different voices from all over the fretboard. On "Collage" and even "Moonlight in Vermont," Schiano is experimenting with tonalities -- with his actual tone of expression rather than microtonalism or overtone harmonics. In mid-solo, his embouchure will change and he will move from a rasping wail to a shimmying squeak to a smooth gospel groan, all the while keeping up with a rhythm section that is doing its best to wind one another down! It all adds up to a further, deeper look into one of the least known -- in philistine America anyway -- yet most important improvisational voices of the 20th century.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek