Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Stephane Spira, Giovanni Mirabassi, Improkofiev


Every so often, more at times, I remember I do not know everything. I do not know every new Jazz artist worth hearing or I might miss some at first, I do not know the future like some fortune teller gazing into a crystal ball. That's when I am glad to be "in the loop," tapping into the pipeline of things coming out for example. So today is a good example of why that can be critical, with the coming of a new CD by Stephane Spira and Giovanni Mirabassi with the provocative and revealing title Improkofiev (Jazzmax JM80404). That these artists are not that familiar to me is my own fault, I suspect--an accident of non-intersection. It reminds of why one needs to keep an open ear to the musicsphere, to be ready for anything.

It is a quartet-quintet date (the latter on one cut that adds flugelhornist Yoann Loustaldt) featuring the principals of the group, Stephane Spira on soprano saxophone and writer of two of the seven pieces here along I suspect with the arrangements, plus pianist Giovanni Mirabassi. They are nicely forwarded by fellow band members: drummer Donald Kontomanou and bassist Steve Wood. Everyone coalesces together quite well, and understandably but notably soprano and piano have the bulk of the solo time and they give us a Postbop lucidity that is rewarding to hear. Bassist Wood and drummer Kontomanou have cameo solo appearances and they do not waste them. With an album and artistry like this however it is the compositional and arranging particularities that stand out as much as the soloing. The swinging eloquence at times reminds favorably of early Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett and perhaps too the Andrew Hill of his classic period on Blue Note. Soprano-wise you can detect an influence of Wayne Shorter and Dave Liebman--all that not a copy mind you so much as a certain commonality of deliberation and line movement.

And then the prefigured element is quite outstanding as well. The three part "Improkofiev" sequence is a nicely astonishing sort of thing, with arrangements of three passages from the wonderful Violin Concerto No. 1 of Prokofiev given a truly jazzed rethinking/recontextualizing. It is so dramatically transformed that I listened several times without consulting the CD jacket and felt to myself "I know this music, yet somehow I am feeling redirected!" Then I listened more after I knew what was up and it confirmed my feeling of going somewhere new with something so familiar and appealing. And it is all quite revealing as you discover the roots to feel what especially soprano and piano do with the music, how the improvisations are fitting but excellent in their own right.

The same might be said for their improv/transformation of Satie's most famous of the Gymnopedies. It is slightly edgy, less directly lyrical. The Carla Bley "Lawns" has here that kind of sprawling gospel-funk that Jarrett used to do so well, only they go their own way and the Carla element still holds forth nicely.

The two Spira Jazz compositions here fit right in with the overall stylistic thrust of the music and hold their own in variously refreshing ways.

I have been enjoying this one thoroughly and I do not hesitate to recommend it to you. It has "Classical" roots in part, obviously, yet it does not sound exactly Third Stream-y so much it has taken melodic-harmonic ideas from Modern Classical classics and made them over to a sophisticated PostBop matrix. It succeeds completely. Hear it!

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