‘Journey’, which follows on ‘Take Another Five’ (2016) dedicated to Nelson Mandela and Dave Brubeck, explodes with a range of musical styles that depict multi-instrumentalist Mike Rossi’s interpretation of country, ethnic, and musical influences over his forty year dance in jazz. It is a compositional delight!
There’s a lot of Italian in this album, from low-highs to happy-sad emotions framed with impressive solos and well-coordinated horn harmonies. Horns predominate amongst stunning solos of Andrew Ford’s piano and organ, as well as Kevin Gibson’s drums, and Wesley Rustin’s boppish double bass. I get a bit nervous when multiple horns play in unison, often wah wah-ing over more delicate rhythms or wind instruments. But Rossi offers mercy as his six cherished hand-made Rampone & Cassani saxophones gently flow through sonic themes, as in the masterful composition, Big Sax, Conversations between Marco Maritz’s fugelhorn and Rossi’s altello sax delight the ear. The South African swing in KwaZulu Zam Sam covers pretty much all the talents of horn and rhythm players without overpowering.
Faithful to his Italian-American background, some pieces were written under the influence: Ciao Roma; Don’t Say Lazio! opens with a wistful alto flute followed by charming Latin beats of Rossi’s tenor sax and expressive drum and piano solos. Alpe Camasca, Italy commemorates a frequently visited area, home to the R&C saxophone factory. Nine movements pull the listener through different time signatures making for unexpected moods and twists. A tribute to snails with red wine in Cucciulitti-Snails of Fermo surprisingly features Rossi’s baritone sax and William Haubrich’s trombone, two unlikely sonic registers for such a small animal.
Family and friends are referenced in such American jazz Standard renditions as Star Dust which Rossi’s late mother loved, and to the Hilda’s of Norway in Lars Jansson’s composition, Hilda, where Rossi’s soprano sax speaks kindly about his friendships there.
Rossi stays faithful to his flutes, particularly stylishly overdubbed in the beautiful Chuck Mangione song Land of Make Believe with Rustin’s bass grounding the basic bop mixed with Latin. Never forgetting how early American jazz included the clarinet, the swing classic Shiny Stockings arranged in quartet form pulls melody and rhythm nicely together in true Count Basie style. Ford’s piano runs are exquisite throughout.
Humour abounds: if there’s any way to portray nausea musically, Greasy Pan Blues does it! A really fun Rossi piece, indeed.
The album ends with the well-known South African classic composition of the late Chris Ngcukana, Mra, skilfully opened by Westin’s bass which swings the band into that familiar groove, and makes one still calling out for more. South Africa is home to the Rossi family, and one wonders what the next musical ‘Journey’ will sound like in the next decade. I wait, enthusiastically!