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Nicola Conte - The Jazzy Sartre

To comprehend fully Nicola Conte's music originality and sensibility we should refer, together with his productions, to the unavoidable Fez's activity, a cultural movement founded by Conte himself in Bari in the early nineties. A real melting pot of several creative musicians, who first of all are friends and grew up together with the same intellectual, music and political similarities. Cultural trouble-makers, emotional dreamers, Jazz enthusiasts of the fifties and sixties, deep "nouvelle vague" connoisseurs, compulsive vinyl collectors, design and graphic experts, people crazy for cultural beat and books written by revolutionaries like Jean Paul Sartre and Boris Vian.


The atmosphere at Fez seemed to be the same detectable at Tabou, the legendary "caveau" in Saint Germain de Pres, described by Vian himself. It is place where it was possible to listen to records, watch cult movies of those two decades ('50s and '60s) and look for solutions to the intellectual uncomfortableness.

Today, some years later, one of the strongest expressions highlighted at Fez is still that of the music.

In that period Fez became the reference point for the artists involved in the acid Jazz scene, really fashionable in London; Nicola Conte is considered the irreplaceable link with our country: he brings artists already famous abroad but still unknown in the Italian clubs. Sociologically in the past we would have defined Fez a perfect example of cultural decentralization "ante litteram," far from the neuralgic centre of the country.

Through Nicola Conte's efforts Fez started to be recognized as a cultural movement for all practical purposes. Then he decided to direct his ideas on the music productions: he began collaborating as a remixer at Schema Records and he created bands like Paolo Achenza Trio, QuintettoX, Fez Combo, Intensive Jazz Sextet and Balanço. Their works well underline Nicola's love for global Jazz and reveals his other great passions to us, like the soundtracks--especially the old Italian productions by Piero Piccioni e Ennio Morricone--and the Brazilian genre Bossa Nova.

The three different styles strongly connected--Jazz, soundtracks and Bossa Nova--are well expressed in the nineties productions and strictly bounded to the afro roots which generated bands like Jazz Convention, Quartetto Moderno, Rosario Giuliani Quartet, Schema Sextet. Among those artists adhere to Nicola's ideas and always active in these bands we mention Fabrizio Bosso, Gianluca Petrella, Lorenzo Tucci, Gaetano Partipilo, Pietro Lussu, Rosario Giuliani.

Nicola in '99 decided to produce his entry record, Jet Sounds, released in 2000. "Jet Sounds" is an elegant fusion among typical Italian sonorities, connected to the cinema and influenced by Jazz, Bossa Nova and psychedelic music. After this record Nicola continued working both as a producer and as a DJ in various worldwide clubs. In the meantime he started making himself noticed as a composer and musician. The single "New Standards" is the real turning-point: released in 2001 and composed in collaboration with the trombonist Gianluca Petrella, this work represents a real watershed between his past and future.

In 2002 Nicola composed and produced the record of Rosalia De Souza, the Quintetto X's singer.

"Garota Moderna" completely reflects the puristical soul of the pugliese artist, who created the melodies upon which Rosalia's voice is performed gracefully and with lightness.

This record is to be considered a further development for Nicola Conte as a producer, where the relationship between the Brazilian tradition and modernity is highly improved. Both a homage and a modern re-reading it captures the typical essence of the different and wavering aspects in the South American culture, as it happened for such big names like Vinicious De Moraes and Caetano Veloso.

Among the pieces we mention "Maria Moita"-- a readjustment of the original one composed in '64 by Carlos Lyra and Vinicius De Moraes for Nara Leao--which shows an elaboration in the rhythmic part that it could be defined "Drum'n'Bossa," and "Canto de Ossanha," written by the great Baden Powell. Noteworthy are also the original works: "Bossa 31," "Tempo Futuro," "Zona Sul" and "Samba Novo" anticipates the future stylistic ambivalence. On one hand in fact we find the tradition, on the other the modernity, that from this point onwards will always be the fulcrum of Nicola's productions.

In the same year also Jet Sounds revisited came out, a remix selections of the namesake album, revitalized by the most important producers in the electronic scene: Koop, Thievery Corporation, Micatone, Nu Spirit Helsinki and the Italian Gerardo Frisina. The artistic importance here finds a positive feedback, thanks to an unreleased piece. The visual suggestions communicated through "Love Me Till' Sunday" become essential for the TV commercial RAS. The testimonial was Sean Connery. Through the remixes Nicola afterwards developed a sound research, starting from the sample technology, then using principally an acoustic instrumentation but obtaining likewise a big club-style impact, breathing the jazz atmosphere of the sixties. In other words a modern dancefloor as a jazz ballroom.

The year 2004 is the turn of Other Directions, licensed by Schema at Blue Note. This record represents Nicola Conte's music aesthetic, from every angle. Always in balance between Jazz and Bossa Nova, here we find the compositive soul bounded to accomplished acoustic atmospheres.

The composer's intention is to communicate not only through the music but through the lyrics too, which not only reveals a talented musician, but also a talented writer nourished by the beat literature ("The Dharma Bums" is a true homage to Jack Kerouac) and that of the English one ("Wanin' Moon" is inspired by a Percy Shelley's poem).

Both the cinema and dramaturgy influenced the composer: "Le Depart" is a reassessment of the namesake piece written in '67 by Krzysztof Komeda for the namesake Jerzy Skolimovsky's movie, and "All Gone" is a homage to Joseph Losey's "Il Servo," a '60s black-and-white movie directed by Harold Pinter.

Other Directions buds from the collaboration and the music affinities of some Italian and international artists, who became components of the Nicola Conte Jazz Combo band: Pietro Cancaglini, Fabrizio Bosso, Daniele Scannapieco, Pietro Lussu, Lorenzo Tucci and the singers Cristina Zavalloni, Bembe Segue, Lisa Bassenge and Lucia Minetti. Their extremely elastic voices are suitable to render the pieces, even if they come from different artistic fields. Also noteworthy are our friends Gianluca Petrella, Rosario Giuliani, Gaetano Partipilo, who constitute a strong wind instrument section, Mirko Signorile and Pasquale Bardaro, whose respectively piano and vibraphone performs the delicate part of the compositions. A further identification mark of this project is the participation of the German musician and singer Till Bronner, one of the most estimated European exponents in the overseas jazz scene, and of the Roman virtuous flautist Nicola Stilo, capable of a great music sensibility and partner of some works recorded in the last artistic period of the American trumpeter Chet Baker. In "Other Directions" the instrumentalist soul of Nicola Conte also comes out, who had decided to start studying guitar again, his old passion. Right here, in "Le Depart," we find his new artistic expression, even if it iso still in embryo.

From the Londonian Jazz Cafe to the Milanese Blue Note to the Tokyoite Billboard, from the Swiss Montreaux Jazz Festival to the German Jazz Open Stuttgart, the sound of Other Directions has been largely acknowledged and nowadays is still a smash hit, which demonstrates the unique feeling of his music and of the Jazz Combo band, and above all it reproduces in the live performances the freshness of the sound created during the several studio recording phases.

2008 is the year of Rituals, which confirms the multifaceted talent of the artist and instrumentalist from Bari. Recorded between the end of 2005 and the October of 2007, also this work first of all develops around the historical faithful team which follows the artist in the live shows. Here we find again Pietro Lussu, Pietro Ciancaglini, Fabrizio Bosso, Lorenzo Tucci and Daniele Scannapieco, with whom Nicola elaborated lots of tracks contained in the album. Afterwards the band has been flanked the other friends of theirs, Gianluca Petrella, Gaetano Partipilo and Till Bronner, who also attended the previous Other Directions.

Also this album grew up through several production phases, and shows a sharper appearance, thanks above all to the love for both the overseas and European jazz. The Afro kind of jazz is celebrated with the participation of Greg Osby and Michael Pinto.

The first one is a talented alto sax musician and one of the gurus in the New York jazz scene, resident in the "roaster" of the Blue Note for twenty years; the second one instead is a vibraphone musician born in New Jersey, a kind of rising star who grew up at the Berklee School of Music.

As opposed to the overseas scene, the melodies and the feelings typical of the European school are demonstrated strongly through the energy and taste typically expressed in the north of Europe, particularly in Scandinavia: Timo Lassy and Teppo Maikinen, already famous in their home country, Finland, and highly considered in Italy because of their participation on the Five Corners Quintet's album, respectively as a saxophonist and a drummer.

The utilization of the voices gives us great artistic importance and depth. These voices belong to Chiara Civello and Alice Ricciardi and express all the warmth and intensity typically Italian.The first one, born in Rome, achieved success in the States, where she was already living and studying singing. Some years ago she made her worldwide debut with Verve Records, with the intuition of Burt Bacharach who produced some tracks of her first album.

The other singer, born and living in Milan, is the new Italian Jazz singer at Blue Note. We are in front of two emotional women with great vocalisms. They show a different appeal but perfectly malleable to the melodic tessitura of the songs. A black kind of vocalism is expressed differently by Kim Sanders, a sophisticated Berliner soul singer, who already had the chance to perform during the various Jazz Combo live shows, and which represents a connection with the Afro American culture. For the first time in a Nicola Conte's album we find some male voices, as well as those of the newer and original ones of the international market. Josè James, a singer from New York who has been acknowledged by the European media thanks to the intuition of Gilles Peterson. The famous dj was so amazed during a concert of the singer while he was performing "Equinox" by John Coltrane, that he decided to produce for him an entire album. Josè James takes care of the great singer's past tradition, those big names like Joe Williams, Nat King Cole and Mark Murphy, but using a timbre similar to the one typical of Andy Bey's voice of the first years. Another fascinating voice is Philippe Weiss' one, who gave us a memorable performance in "Caravan," one of the most famous Duke

Ellington's pieces which, together with "Macedonia" by Dusko Gojkovic represents the unique unoriginal compositions of this work. "Rituals" signals a switch in Nicola Conte's artistic career, further developed thanks to his effort in the creation of the songs and lyrics of the record. Just as it happened in the previous album, also here we find references to the literary culture dear to Nicola which helped him find inspiration during the writing phase.

Among the poet's lectures which influenced the lyrics we find those of Dylan Thomas and the American Langstone Hughes.There are some pieces in the album which were inspired more than the others by the literature of these two writers. The first one is "Like Heavens In The Wind," whose lyrics were performed by Josè James. His words are accompanied by the wind instruments with Till Bronner and Sandro Deidda, a valued musician from Campania who is present in seven pieces of the album. The other two songs in question are "I See All Shades Of You," with Alice Ricciardi's classical interpretation, and "The Nubian Queens," where the drumming by the Finn Teppo Maikinen leaves immediately its mark. The solos by Fabrizio Bosso and Timo Lassy seems to be unbreakable till the end of the song.

Another innovation immediately perceptible listening to Rituals is the compositive form, the colours, the feelings and the romantic mood which are expressed through the blue notes of the guitar played by Nicola Conte (here as an instrumentalist). Among the most famous great historical instrumentalists of the past Nicola Conte is influenced by Barney Kessel, Jim Hall, Wes Montgomery, Grant Green, Pat Martino, Gabor Szabo, Kenny Burrell.

Great artistic conceptions which still promise us future new productions of this great Italian artist.


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