Review: Fano Jazz 2019

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Joshua Redman Quartet at Fano 2019. Photo by Mirko Silvestrini

Fano is a small town in the region of Le Marche, in central Italy on the Adriatic coast. It’s had a jazz festival since 1993, held across some of the town’s very atmospheric venues. The main events this year were held at the ancient fortress of Rocca Malestestiana – a superb location – from 18-28 July. Of the events I caught, the highlight was Joshua Redman celebrating the music of Old and New Dreams – the quartet that existed 1976-87 and featured Don Cherry and his father Dewey, playing the music of Ornette Coleman. Redman’s quartet included Ron Miles on cornet, Scott Colley on bass and Dave King on drums.

They began with two originals, the second probably a contrafact of All The Things You Are. Open Or Close is an Old and New Dreams original taken at a blistering tempo, then featuring clever changes of tempo and some handbrake turns. On this performance, Dave King used some interesting percussion devices, including a ketchup tomato. Fate And Miracles, by Colley, was loosely dirge-like; there followed an untitled Rhythm changes composition by Ron Miles, with interaction between bass and drums especially prominent. Two compositions by Redman were both taken from Still Dreaming, the quartet’s 2018 record which featured Brian Blade on drums. It’s Not The Same was reflective and subdued; Blues For Charlie, a tribute to Charlie Haden, was beautifully arranged with counterpoint by Miles. The encore was Ed Blackwell’s Togo, with Dave King in full Blackwell mode, a churning rhythm. 

There are interesting comparisons between the work of Redman Sr and Jr, and the performance also reminded me of Christian McBride’s quartet New Jawn, with Marcus Strickland (reeds), Josh Evans (trumpet) and Nasheet Waits (drums), which though not a conscious Old and New Dreams tribute, reflected that ethos. The Joshua Redman outfit, though powerful and dynamic, seemed cooler in comparison. The result was an outstanding gig, with sound, lighting and dry ice all superb. On a fashion note, Pit Bull Head Shavers are clearly doing good business in the jazz world, as all of the quartet had shaven heads – Ron Miles was especially cool and dapper, and didn’t take off his jacket and tie on a warm evening.

Early evening events were held in Pinacoteca San Domenico, a huge Baroque church converted into an art gallery. I caught a solo performance from Dudù Kouaté, born into a griot family in Senegal in 1963. He now lives in Bergamo in Italy, and has recently been performing as a member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Kouaté entered playing flute, wearing a hat and cloak. Before him was a massive array of percussion, stringed and small instruments, laid out on a large rug. His performance used echo-delay, and its theatricality was reminiscent of the Art Ensemble. After some vocals, he took off his hat and cloak and began drumming – I believe these were the talking drums. He then turned to the water bowls and some whirling devices. It was a captivating and musically involving performance.

The following evening in the Pinacoteca we heard accordionist Luciano Biondini, who has an orchestral conception, with great dynamic variation and feeling. His programme featured classic Italian pop songs more familiar to the Italian audience than to me, with a focus on the 1960s. The first was Luigi Tenco’s Mi Sono Innamorato Di Te (“I’m In Love With You”), followed by Senza Fini, by Gino Paoli. Then came excerpts from the soundtrack of the TV film Pinocchio, music by Fiorenzo Carpi, followed by La Lontananza, and Il Postino. The encore was Morricone’s theme from Once Upon A Time In America. This was an impassioned and beautifully skilled performance.

The final event I caught on the main stage was Donny McCaslin, with a group of younger musicians: Jeff Taylor (vocals, guitar), Jason Lindner (keyboards), Timothy Lefebvre (bass guitar) and Zach Danziger (drums). McCaslin is an interesting case of a journeyman jazz player whose career experienced a major upturn through his association with David Bowie on the latter’s final album Black Star. They opened with What About The Body and Great Destroyer from McCaslin’s 2018 album Body, and continued with prog rock-oriented numbers featuring long instrumentals and some vocals. Some fellow writers were disappointed with this rock-star act by McCaslin – which incidentally sold less well than Joshua Redman’s gig – but I am not sure how much has been lost compared to his jazz career. The keyboard synth playing, and the drumming, were rather crude and effects-laden – guitar and bass guitar were the most effective, and the dark, plangent material made this an interesting gig.

Fano Jazz, Italy, 21st-23rd July 2019