For Italians, the term "electric jazz" has never held the negative connotations it has in the States. Indeed, when clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre wanted to make records utilizing electric bass and keyboards, he went to Italy to make them. Indeed, the Italians have always been able to make electric jazz records sound organic and swing hard. Four Ways, the 1996 effort by bassist Attilio Zanchi is, in both electric and acoustic settings, a seminal recording for those very reasons. This is jazz with a capital "J." Zanchi's co-conspirators here -- guitarist John Stowell, vibraphonist Andrea Dulbecco, and drummer Gianni Cazzola -- are well versed in the kind of tasteful restraint and studied improvisation employed by their leader on his own tunes as well as those by bandmembers Harold Arlen, Miles Davis, and Doug Hammond. The set opens with the hard swinging post-bop of "Night Walk," with bass and guitar moving through each other in commanding lead lines as Dulbecco holds down the pulse with few flourishes. The pace is exhilarating and is but a sample of things to come. On Dulbecco's "Triads," Zanchi trades eighths and even 12ths with Dulbecco and Stowell in a dizzying array of shades and colors with the edges rounded to warm. Things get a tad sweet on "Primo Decembre" when the band goes acoustic, but Zanchi's playing, in elegant pizzicato, is a treat nonetheless, and on "Over the Rainbow," the sense of lyricism in the long intro is absolutely infectious with its impressionistic sketch of the melody played by Stowell and framed in harmonic overtones by Dulbecco before being syncopated by Zanchi and Cazzola as the melodic lead moves then to Zanchi to tenderly glide over the strings with a heartbreakingly beautiful solo. But the finest swinging moment on the entire disc is on Miles' "Blue in Green." Here, vibes and guitar chat it up, moving through the changes and interweaving contrapuntal intervals as Zanchi drives the blues edge home on the fringe. This is a hell of a soulful record with virtuoso performances; it belongs in everybody's CD collection.
Four Ways Review
by Thom Jurek