Mario Schiano

Social Security

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Recorded live at the Victoriaville Festival in 1996, this disc features the Italian saxophone and improvisation master surrounded by a band from heaven -- or hell, depending on your view of modern free jazz -- ensuring his own "social security" (as if, with his abilities, he really needed it). Evan Parker on soprano and tenor, trombonist Sebi Tramontana, bassist Barry Guy, and drummer extraordinaire Paul Lovens round out Schiano's alto saxophone playing on stage. The idea is simple enough: Each horn player sets up a section and the improvisation flows from there. But here is where it gets tricky. As Schiano sets up the first and last of Social Security's four sections, the other two players have the option of extending his contribution altogether or obliterating it entirely and starting over. Parker and Tramontana choose a middle ground by keeping the Schiano harmonic themes while rooting around searching for new modes to employ them in, only giving over to free soloing when they've exhausted all immediate possibilities -- though others return later. Schiano's own solo in "Part 1" is particularly riveting, taking figures from Marion Brown and Ornette Coleman and layering them with a bluesed-out quote-fest from folk songs to Catholic hymns to sections of Ornette's own Free Jazz. Parker goes out to the margins on "Part 4," turning his circular-breathing manipulations into a call-and-response fest from Schiano and Tramontana, bringing them all harmonically within reach of his tonality and timbral affectations, which gives the impression of presenting an absolutely unified front line in the middle of an improvisation -- remarkable! But then, everything about Social Security is remarkable; from the sensitive, singing rhythm section of Guy and Lovens to the complete respect and admiration of the three horn players for each other and their sidemen, this disc is an ultimate exercise in free improv democracy.

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