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Ida Lupino is a fresh and creative album, distinguished by deep listening and focused interaction. At its centre is the remarkable improvisational rapport of two Italian musicians – pianist Giovanni Guidi and trombonist Gianluca Petrella. Their musical understanding – already apparent to listeners who heard them in Enrico Rava’s band – has been further refined in a widely-travelled duo which seeks encounters with fellow improvisers. “Our duo work is really defined by our collaboration with other artists,” Guidi says. The present album both builds on established relationships and the stimulus of new encounters as they are joined by – in Petrella’s words – “two masters of contemporary jazz who are really on our wavelength”. 

For this recording, Manfred Eicher brought Guidi and Petrella together with US drummer Gerald Cleaver and French clarinettist Louis Sclavis, for a set of music by turns introspective and outgoing. The Italians had played previously with Cleaver, on an early Guidi album called We Don’t Live Here Anymore, but Sclavis had never met the other musicians prior to the session at Lugano’s Stelio Molo RSI auditorium. “It’s very precious this kind of musical relationship,” Louis Sclavis says, “on the one hand, it’s very fragile but at the same time there is a strong connection between the players. We are four people for one music, and we don’t know where we’re going, but we control the journey.”

“In this album we are searching for many different things,” says Giovanni Guidi. “Improvised music has to be very democratic. At the same time, one of its components should be a sense of wonder. And the more you have a strong idea, at the concept level, the more you know you must not impose it…”

Gerald Cleaver: “I liked the completely open way Giovanni and Gianluca approached this: not telling me what they wanted, but having some sort of underlying plan, and what I had to do was basically surrender to it. That could have been difficult, but it ended up being a really enjoyable ride.”

The emphasis is on lyrical group improvising and tunes by the players, created in the moment or otherwise. There are a couple of exceptions: “Per i morti di Reggio Emilia (To the Dead of Reggio Emilia)” is a protest song penned by Turin folk singer-songwriter Fausto Amodei. And the title track, “Ida Lupino” , does double duty as a salute to composer Carla Bley in her 80th year (Petrella once played in a big band under Carla’s direction) and as a tribute to the late, great Paul Bley, who popularized the tune and influenced so many improvisers – not least Giovanni Guidi.

“I find the music we played to be above all very sincere,” says Guidi. “It is an exact photograph of where our individual journeys have brought us, and what we were able to create together. And it wouldn’t have been possible without Manfred, who is in a way the fifth musician – hearing every note, every sound, every detail…” The album was recorded and mixed in three days, in time-honoured ECM tradition. “When we listen to what we’ve played, we’re left a little speechless, because there are so many subtleties that transform the whole quality of the music.”

Guidi, born in Foligno, was encouraged in his musical directions by Enrico Rava at summer master classes in Siena, and subsequently played on the Rava albums On The Dance Floor and Tribe. His previous albums include City of Broken Dreams and This is the Day, featuring his trio with Thomas Morgan and João Lobo. Gianluca Petrella, born in Bari, plays on four ECM albums with Enrico Rava: Easy Living, The Words and the Days, Tribe and Wild Dance. The two of them, Guidi and Petrella, are frequently instanced by critics as key figures in a new “golden age” for Italian jazz. 

Louis Sclavis, from Lyon, has made ten albums as a leader for ECM since 1993, the most recent being Silk and Salt Melodies and Sources, released respectively in 2014 and 2012. Where previous recordings have stressed his originality as conceptualist and jazz composer, Ida Lupino emphasizes his capacity as quick-thinking melodic improviser.

Detroit-born Gerald Cleaver, one of the very finest drummers of the present moment, made his ECM debut in 1997 as a member of Roscoe Mitchell’s Note Factory on Nine To Get Ready and has since appeared on the label as a member of Tomasz Stanko’s New York Quartet, the Michael Formanek Quartet and the Craig Taborn Trio. The most recent release featuring Cleaver is Miroslav Vitous’s Music of Weather Report. 

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