By Ken Waxman
Demonstrating how the Mississippi Delta can figuratively drain in and out of the Mediterranean, is Rome’s Roots Magic quartet, on its second disc devoted to instrumental improvisations on mostly classic 1930s Blues. As an added dividend, the canny Italians interpret five 1970s Free Jazz classics – and some originals – demonstrating how the Blues continuum has remained constant throughout the years,
Some of the country’s most accomplished players, clarinetist Alberto Popolla, who has worked with Michel Godard; saxophonist Errico De Fabritiis, who moves between Jazz and contemporary music; veteran bassist Gianfranco Tedeschi, who has performed with Wadada Leo Smith and many others; and drummer Fabrizio Spera, whose playing partners have ranged from Evan Parker to Axel Dörner, Roots Magic members build on Blues roots in a sophisticated manner. By treating the form as a living entity, eschewing rote copying (and vocals) and with occasional help from keyboardist Luca Venitucci and cellist Luca Tilli, the band’s take invalidates any questions of authenticity, How different after all is its interpretations from a Japanese string quartet playing Bach or an all-British gamelan ensemble?
Compare for instance the equal facility the quartet brings to its versions of Charley Patton’s “Tom Rushen Blues” from the 1930s and Julius Hemphhill’s “Dogon A.D.” from the 1970s. Emphasizing its metronomic beat, the former swings via clarinet puffs and saxophone snarls as the Blues vamps deepen. Hard and heavy baritone saxophone riffs provide the underpinning to flutter-tonguing clarinet, until together they reach a level of intense, crying excitement.
With such treatments telescoping chronological distances between tracks as if the separation between Rome, Italy and Rome, Georgia didn’t exist, the band refines this approach on the remaining material. Among the dozen tunes are Patton’s “Poor Me”, that includes a thickened double bass buzz and broken-octave riffs from the horns; Venitucci’s tremolo keyboard clipping preceding a melodic double-horn exposition on Marion Brown’s “November Cotton Flower”; and the group demonstrates further versatility as a shuffle beat plus a feathery clarinet refrain smugly fits “Pee Wee’s Blues” into the concept. As should be expected, originals composed by Popolla add a sheen of Italianate jollity and banda-like dance motions to the Blues sensibility.
While Roots Magic may have different roots than the original Blues musicians, its CD affirms that an ability to express the magic rooted in the Blues isn’t limited by geographic boundaries.