Marco Tranchina / Smät Five: More Than Ever

The style mix - bop, Latin and European - may be familiar but the Italian pianist's quintet stands out for close listening and joyous swing

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Rome-born pianist and composer Tranchina should be a familiar name amongst UK audiences. Based in London since 2005, he is a player very much rooted in “the tradition”. Like most of his Italian ex-pat bandmates he has earned his keep playing musics other than jazz.

Following a difficult period of self-reflection during the long Covid lockdown Tranchina found himself eager to get back to his first loves of writing, performing and improvising, and armed with a new set of original compositions his quintet now makes its debut for Martin Hummel’s Ubuntu Music.

While all of the music on More Than Ever was composed by Tranchina, its zesty blend of bop, Latin and European influences isn’t particularly original. The album’s great strength lies in the close-listening simpatico relationships of the musicians, their willingness to push themselves to the limit, and the joyous sense of rhythm and swing apparent on every track.

All of the tracks are strong, but the pick of the bunch for me were Axioma and Lost & Found. The former is an intense modal burner fashioned after Tyner. Once again it produces a fiery response from Short, who soars high above Montolli and Galli’s rhythmic storm before Solarino and Tranchina follow in similarly forthright style. The latter is a spacious ballad, a wellspring of relaxed lyricism and near clairvoyant interplay.

Guitarist Andrea Solarino is particularly impressive, his cool, contemporary reverb-laden sound often recalling the late John Abercrombie. Most of the music’s piquancy tends to come from Short, and his searing Dolphyesque flight on the title-track and searching flute on the beautiful Irish Eyes stand proud amongst many highlights.

This is warm, passionate and life-affirming post-bop, and I for one will be interested to see where Tranchina’s relationship with Ubuntu goes next.

Discography: 
More Than Ever; Push & Pull; Nitro; Axioma; Lost & Found; Holger’s Dream; Irish Eyes; 4.3 Cycle Song (56.20)
Tranchina (p); Alan Short (as, f); Andrea Solarino (elg); Mikele Montolli (b); Filippo Galli (d). London, 1 & 2 May 2021.
Ubuntu Music UBU0103