The anything-goes sensibility of Dutch jazz has been demonstrated by landmark ensembles like the ICP Orchestra and the late Willem Breuker’s Kollektief for decades, but other groups have been making significant contributions to the scene for quite a while. I Compani, led by soprano/tenor saxophonist Bo van de Graaf, celebrated their 25th anniversary with a production entitled Mangiare!, performed in late 2010 and early 2011 at various Dutch venues and documented on this live CD. I Compani's world is one of soundtracks, circuses, and surrealism, with the group often focusing on a spot where those three elements intersect: Nino Rota's music for the films of Federico Fellini. It is thus apt that Mangiare! -- which, by the way, is subtitled The World of Food with its 14 tracks laid out a bit like an obscenely sumptuous multiculti feast -- begin with the circusy fanfare of Rota's "The Temptation of Dr. Antonio" from a 1962 Fellini flick, and also that van de Graaf arrange the piece to give trumpeter Jeroen Doomernik a sizable showcase to show off his soloing chops, in this case with some Latin-flavored backing that nearly comes apart at the seams. The nine-piece ensemble on Mangiare! is larger than I Compani's typical septet formation, although smaller than the band featured on 2010’s Last Tango in Paris, which featured two violinists and a cellist. Two of Tango's string players return here, longstanding bandmember violinist Tessa Zoutendijk and cellist Jacqueline Hamelink, and they sometimes add a modern chamber music flavor, although in a way that is far from staid.
The melancholy string-laden "Sauce," with its drifting yet thorough scoring, only announces itself as "jazz" during a mid-piece solo break from bassist Arjen Gorter (like drummer Rob Verdurmen a member of the WBK for well over 30 years). "Sucracid," a sparse duet between bandoneonist Michel Mulder and pianist Christoph Mac-Carty, may be fully improvised, but it also reveals Mulder's debt to Piazzolla, while "The Nightservant," a full-band outing dedicated to Breuker's memory with van de Graaf stating the melody on sensuous tenor, is an even more explicit tip of the hat toward Argentinian tango music. And "Bittersweet" uses Indian drone and multi-layered post-minimalism à la Philip Glass to launch some beautiful soloing by Zoutendijk before the full group coalesces in a darkly dramatic coda. What most listeners would define as "jazz" is always nearby, however, whether straightforwardly swinging, modal, or even fusion-tight in construction -- or more exotic as in "Tussendoortje A & B," with Bitches Brew-style overdriven keyboard touches that add spice to a Balkan musical stew. Also present is Gato Barbieri's "Last Tango in Paris" theme featuring van de Graaf again on tenor; the piece had been performed as an encore during Mangiare!'s live program, and fits in well here. Mangiare! is a fine 25th anniversary present for I Compani's fans -- and a worthy introduction for those who somehow missed the group's first quarter century on the Dutch jazz scene.