Claudio Scolari | Principal Records (2018)
DECEMBER 29, 2019
Italian progressive jazz masters the Claudio Scolari Project are back with more of some of the most stimulating contemporary improv music from either side of the Atlantic. The namesake Scolari remains the center of it all at drums, with his primary partner multi-instrumentalist Daniele Cavalca providing keyboards and sometimes a second set of drums. Scolari’s son Simone has been the trumpet player since he was a teenager.
Upside Down comes just a year and some change after their last release,
Natural Impulse, which was their first album in six years.
The Claudio Scolari Project has now grown to a quartet with the addition of Michele Cavalca — Daniele’s brother — to hold down the bass duties. In addition to making this ensemble even more of a family affair, Michele taking over on bass frees up the prior bass player Daniele to concentrate on drums and keyboards, enabling more ‘live in the studio’ playing than ever before. And the more they play live, the more improvisation comes out. And improvisation is the core strength of this band.
Cavalca’s expanding keyboarding skills is apparent on “Smoke In C Minor,” not just in the use of synths for tactical accents, but on piano that plays just what is needed to sketch out the melody and nothing more. By not trying to do too much, Scolari is able to finish off the sketches Cavalca starts, with discretion and taste while maintaining a steady groove.
That song is just those two, who already sound like a whole band. But next up on “Underground Soul,” the other guys show up and the same, spacious angularity is maintained. The Cavalcas both wander but never drift too far from the harmonic parameters. The Scolaris eventually step up to the fore with their own display of liveliness.
Daniele has greatly expanded his palette on keyboards, giving the CSP sound a diversity not heard before. He plays a funky Rhodes-like electric piano on “Upside Road.” Claudio Scolari refuses to bow to the prescribed ways of doing thing, opting for a light, almost swing like pulse instead of a heavy backbeat. “And I’ll Make You Smile” is on the quirky, playful side. Daniele vamps on piano over a on synth-generated motif while his brother’s bass dances sprightly around him while Simone keeps it in the pocket.
“Upside Down” is just straight-up jazz, a loose swagger that saunters up and down note progressions as everyone comps and solos simultaneously. The elder Scolari and Cavalca team up on drums for “Twister” just riding the groove, feeding off each other and never getting overbearing. The two later team up for the short “Fast And Last,” a more furious drum duet.
“Syrah Hangover” is more akin to the downtempo stuff heard on Daniele Cavalca’s
own album Cinematic, but the warm synth vibe is nicely complemented by the Scolaris and Cavalca’s piano musings hit the sweet spot. “Bismantova Castle” is a showcase for the two younger fellows, who both show a lot of melodicism and an understanding of the poignant effect of letting notes hang can have.
“Wired” is where everyone lets it hang out. Managing a wide array of keyboards, Daniele sets some loops into motion and solos on electric piano while Simone jousts with him and Michele establishes a low end groove while jumping into the fray. The elder Scolari maintains a steady swing, tossing in fills and bomb at the right spots. Daniele pulls double duty by freeing up a hand for additional drumming(!). This is all done live and spontaneously…and it’s very musical.
Using high-level musicianship and a great sense of harmony and rhythm to carry out one instantaneous idea after another is the trademark of Claudio Scolari Project, and they keep getting better at it.