Mixed and mastered by Gianmaria Aprile@Argo LABoratorium
Alberto Braida and Giancarlo Locatelli – Nel Margine (Red Toucan, 2013) ****
By Troy Dostert
A beautiful record from two musicians I hadn’t encountered before—although they have a history of playing together since 1996. They’ve released a couple of CDs prior to this one, and they also recorded together in a trio format with the late Peter Kowald (Aria – from 2005). For this release, Locatelli (clarinet and bass clarinet) and Braida (piano) offer improvisations that have a strong compositional base, but which are open enough to explore uncharted terrain—albeit in a pensive, controlled manner.
Both musicians communicate in a sparse, deceptively simple language that doesn’t require a lot of pyrotechnics to impress the listener. Indeed, what’s striking about these tracks is the way in which the duo is able to pack so much musical information into their unhurried and restrained musings. The superb quality of their musicianship plays a big role in the success of the record. Locatelli’s technique is flawless, and especially strong in producing soft upper-register passages, but always with a willingness to search out the melodic core at the heart of each tune, rather than relying on technical dazzle. Braida similarly adheres to a “less is more” approach to improvisation, with a lot of softly ringing chords and open space in his playing.
Aside from the last track, “Dal Margine,” which is purely free (and considerably more aggressive than the preceding ten songs), each track is structured around a composed tune to anchor the musicians’ improvisations. Each player gets credit for half of these tunes, but it’s hard to detect any noticeable differences in style between them; both Braida and Locatelli are clearly influenced by Monk, as all the melodies have that peculiarly Monkish characteristic of being both melancholy and playful at the same time, with a wry sensibility that always shines through. In every case, the musicians’ understanding of each other is so developed that they can sound exceptionally free while staying loosely grounded in the foundation of the tune. Part of their mission on the record, in fact, seems to involve blurring the lines between free and composed playing–and the result is frequently sublime.