I Compani

Extended 2013

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Bandleader/saxophonist Bo van de Graaf is vigilant in documenting the various projects of I Compani, so it shouldn't be surprising that Extended 2013 appeared relatively close on the heels of Garbo, a recording of the Dutch large ensemble's 2012 Diva's show. For the January 2013 LUX Impro Marathon, as many as 23 musicians were crammed onto the stage of the LUX venue in Nijmegen, The Netherlands, and from the sound of Extended 2013, they spilled off the stage and maybe even out of the room entirely. Unusual approaches to improvisation are explored here and there, but the track listing kicks off with a straight read of van de Graaf's "Sun Ra" with 22 musicians participating -- there are even four pianists! The sound of this angular-themed swinger is massive but not unwieldy, with brightness and crispness in the melody accentuated by marimba, adding a bit of Zappa flavor. The ensemble's backing is richly immersive but not cluttered, with the diverse instrumentation's panoply of timbres -- from saxophone, trumpet, trombone, guitar, cello, violin, bandoneon, bass, drums, the aforementioned marimba and pianos -- creating something holistic but also filled with individualistic detail. Extended 2013 is not jam-packed with musicians jostling for attention every step of the way, however, and in fact many of the pieces throughout the disc are dominated by smaller instrumental groupings.

The appropriately melancholic "Mourning" features Simin Tander's wordless vocalizing in tandem with van de Graaf's saxophone, supported by bandoneon, violin, cello, and a distant trumpet (played by musicians selected by the audience); the arrangement fragments into pieces as Tander more directly expresses pained emotions -- a tango is suggested but never quite reached, as if the mourner needs more time to heal before contemplating dance. Beginning with a short historic recording, "Boxtel 1975" is roiling tenor sax-piano-bass-drums free jazz in the late-period Coltrane mode, although some listeners may hear a touch of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman" in the melody. Another small-ensemble grouping performs one of the disc's most cinematically atmospheric tracks, Nino Rota's "La Dolce Vita" theme, played at a languid and luxurious tempo with Tander's spoken voice-over in Italian; you may never want to hear the song taken at a faster pace. But "Il Duca di Württemberg" is an indisputable highlight, with the full ensemble back in place to forcefully attack van de Graaf's arrangement of Rota's pounding score, partly inspired by Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring. As for all that improv stuff scattered about, there are striking moments and genuine craziness as the band responds to screen projections on "The Freejazz Karaoke" and audience text messages on "SMS in Concert," although a bit of the experience can't help but get lost in translation to a purely audio format. The purely improvisational tracks certainly capture the spirit of the event, but some listeners' ears might perk up when I Compani enter the final stretch with an energized rendition of Sun Ra's "Enlightenment."

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