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Liner Notes for the new Roberto Magris CD “Restless Spirits”  

Established in 1946, the Big Band Ritmo-Sinfonica Citta’ Di Verona, an acclaimed forty-three-piece super big band from the historical city of Verona, Italy, came to be as an idea from musicians who were members of the Symphonic Orchestra of Verona. Over the years the BBRS evolved into a formidable jazz-centered orchestra originally led by Mario Pezzotta in the 70s and since 1995 under the direction of Marco Pasetto. Playing the music of American jazz giants such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Miles Davis, Pasetto has continued the band’s exploration of jazz to include a repertoire of today’s modern and contemporary jazz styles leading to the recording of several albums. Enter Italian piano virtuoso Roberto Magris an internationally recognized recording artist long known as a master jazz pianist and composer with seventeen recordings to his credit, just happens to be someone with whom Pasetto had previously collaborated with performing much of his music with the BBRS.

With Restless Spirits, Musical Director and Conductor Marco Pasetto and the BBRS pay tribute to Magris by recording his compositions in September of 2008 at Teatro Martinelli in Castelnuovo del Garda, Italy, a performing arts theatre instead of a production studio resulting in a live-recording quality sound to the audio. Roberto Magris headlines as the main guest for this outing although Italian trumpeter Massimo Greco and percussion specialist Sbibu also featured as special guests. The classic big band performance captured on this disc is reminiscent of the kind of music you hear from today’s contemporary large orchestras like the renowned 50-piece Netherland’s Metropole Orchestra or the sounds once produced by such big bands like Woody Herman’s Thundering Herds or the legendary Stan Kenton Orchestra’s of the past. In fact, BBRS is a brass-rich ensemble loaded with a twenty-piece reed section that can blow your socks off. Magris leads the rhythm side and lends eight vibrant originals including reprising “Blues for My Sleeping Baby” from his Check-In album and provides an alternate take to “Ambiguous” culminating in nine big band arrangements and seventy minutes of sophisticated and rhythmically-rich modern big band music. 

The session opens up with a hand-clapping introduction to the blistering “African Mood,” unleashing a percussive Afro-tinged flavored melody containing a strong piano foray from Magris where his furious pounding on the keys stands out above the strong play of the band. On his second recording of “Blues for My Sleeping Baby” Magris plays the Fender Rhodes leading the BBRS on a spacious arrangement of this favorite tune guiding a strong woodwind section to a more mellow background as trumpeter Massimo Greco provides warm phrasings on the flugelhorn. Bassist Giuseppe “Pepe” Gasparini plays a light bass-line intro to “Peaceful Heart,” a composition written with the pulse of a peaceful and strong heart in mind, is anything but light or peaceful, an intoxicating number that begins softly then develops into high gear with a boisterous brass and more flugelhorn voicing’s from Greco followed by a meaty piano solo from Magris ending in a crescendo of horns.   

There are two renditions of “Ambiguous” both high-energy arrangements where Magris sticks to the Fender Rhodes and allows BBRS to take center stage showcasing the musicianship of its members with exciting solos and orchestrations. “Restless Spirits” is one pulsating score replete with a strong percussive element featuring guest percussionist Sbibu and Stefano Sartori on the congas weaving through a direction changing restless piece of music giving meaning to its title. Magris fashions a traditional big band number with the stylish and exuberant “Short & Shorter” highlighting Greco on the muted horn as he remains on the Fender Rhodes with some spicy solos supported by the muscle woodwinds section of the band.

Though not in essence a true Latin jazz piece of music, “Standard Life” nevertheless sounds like a chart right from Stan Kenton’s famous “Cuban Fire” album showcasing heavy percussions over a brass-enriched background, diced with more appreciable clapping and ending in a thundering chorus typical of a Kenton band recording. The pianist saves some of his best piano chops for the beautiful “Maliblues” where he also shares the spotlight with conductor Pasetto who, for a brief moment sets aside his busy duties as a conductor, to provide a delicate and tasteful solo on the soprano saxophone to accompany Magris.

Restless Spirits reveals the musical character of an exciting group of players capable of striking invigorating and forceful musical statements staking a claim to being considered as one of the better big bands in Europe. BBRS Director Marco Pasetto has done a magnificent job in developing a relatively young musical organization into a mature jazz oriented ensemble that can hang with the best orchestras in the world. Pianist Roberto Magris demonstrates once again why he is considered among the elite jazz artists of our time. He plays the piano with intensity, feeling and heart-felt passion leaving his all on the keys and his soul in the music. His compositions are creative and his arrangements are fresh and dynamic—all coming together to help deliver a restless and resounding big band musical experience you will not soon forget.

Edward Blanco

 Ed Blanco is a member of the Jazz Journalist Association and a regular contributor for eJazznews, Jazzreview and All About Jazz, and hosts several jazz radio programs at WDNA 88.9 FM “Serious Jazz” radio station in Miami.



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