Gianni Gebbia

The Williamsburg Sonatas

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The trio of Gianni Gebbia, Lukas Ligeti, and Massimo Pupillo has undertaken several tours in the United States, including a 2001 venture from which these recordings of The Williamsburg Sonatas originate, as well as a return jaunt in 2005. The combination of three differing European sensibilities and stylistic approaches works extremely well, apparently involving different degrees of so-called "jazz content" from gig to gig, depending on situational stimuli. In the case of the eight tracks on this CD, an important inspiration was obviously the ambience of Brooklyn, New York. Not only are the performances collected under the suite-like title of The Williamsburg Sonatas, but the CD booklet and even the label are entirely decorated with color photographs of Brooklyn beauty. Beauty? It seems hard, at least for an American writer, to connect this music with the Williamsburg imagery; hopefully there will never be a form of music that really captures the downside of what some inhabitants call "New York sh*tty" -- dark, dirty and disgusting with not even a hint of nature. In contrast, the music of this trio seems full of light and the ambience of travel and fresh discovery. In this particular collection, the music is also extremely jazzy in a modernistic way. It is "modern jazz" that adds to the development of the form, particularly in the innovative bass playing of Massimo Pupillo. He can be said to inhabit one side of this trio's triangle of instrumentalists, playing improvised music on the electric bass in a way that has simply not been done before. Drummer Lukas Ligeti, full of ideas and conversation behind the kit, combines a similar and certainly sympathetic style with the ability to sound like he is coming right out of a free jazz group that could originate at any point of time in the last half century. Then there's Gianni Gebbia, who sticks to alto saxophone and a sound that virtually always has some kind of jazz reference point. One of this trio's accomplishments is revitalizing the feel of this particular instrumentatio -- alto saxophone plus bass and drums -- which has been prevalent ever since horn players began looking for more harmonic freedom. The Sicilian, who has been coming to New York City since the '80s when he was actually working in a Manhattan pizza place, can flip a nice Ornette Coleman pie. He also brings to mind alto players such as Noah Howard and Marion Brown in his combination of sweet lyricism and harshness riding atop an energetic rhythm section. Pupillo, however, is always at the heart of material such as this sounding so fresh. He plays not at all like a typical bassist from this genre, in fact at times he sounds nothing like a bass at all.

Ligeti is simply the perfect drummer for these two, able to think in two directions at once, if not more. For the most part the titles of the individual pieces join the photographs in the booklet in seeming not irrelevant, but only marginally connected; some of these titles are much weirder than the music itself. When Gebbia goes for the type of saxophone sounds associated with John Zorn, to whom one of the pieces is dedicated, the trio's focus sharply intensifies. A much more abrupt pace makes for a jarring contrast with the previously described jazzier material, like a fight scene in a western saloon that comes right after a series of tranquil landscape shots. Ligeti and Pupillo are always eager in these refreshing and exciting episodes which hardly dominate, at least on this night in Williamsburg.

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