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Monday, April 8, 2019

Federico Ughi - Transoceanico (577 Records, 2019) ****

By Sammy Stein

Federico Ughi, New York drummer, improviser and producer releases a new studio recording to celebrate the 20 year anniversary of his first release, 'The Space Within', recorded in London, UK. The theme of the album is Ughi’s experience of home, and how it has evolved, living between Brooklyn, New York, his native Rome, Italy and all the places in the world he has passed through while touring. It’s Ughi’s personal meditation on travelling to so many places, intertwined with the melancholy of never being able to feel like he entirely belongs.

The album reunites Ughi with British saxophonist Rachel Musson, who was on the first recording. Musson is one of the most prominent voices in improvised music in the UK and Europe. She and Ughi have collaborated, played and recorded together during the intervening years in spite of living in separate continents. Rachel Musson performed at the Forward Festival 2018 in New York and will be releasing two albums on 577 Records; the first with legendary British musicians Pat Thomas and Mark Sanders, the second with the “Monster trio” of Daniel Carter, William Parker, and Federico Ughi.

Federico Ughi says, " Back in the mid-90s in England, Rachel and I would play music together all the time, sometimes every day for stretches of weeks. We would daydream of playing in New York. In 1996 we even travelled to the city to check out opportunities, clubs, music schools, music connections. We were green jazz musicians just starting to approach the improv world. These days, Rachel is one of the leading voices in the European scene, and I am really proud of all she has accomplished. I never imagined we would find ourselves in New York recording albums, playing music together. This album means a lot to me. It is the manifestation of a dream, two decades in the making."

The CD opens with ' So Far So Good' which is a brilliant piece of creative improvised music. Opening with bass chords over which the sax enters and proceeds to work around the short melodic riff Musson sets up. Every which way you can, she finds the ways in, out and around the patterns , building, exploring, repeating rarely but ever more adventurous until by the end of the track the sax dominates with stut notes aplenty amongst, short, sharp, fierce - so fierce - deliveries - it is absolutely wonderful and the drums support, following, carefully side stepping the rhythmic traps set by the sax and the bass provides the reference points so vital in this music. A complete delight - 9 minutes or so of your life flies past. The quietude of the ending is very effective contrast. 'Segnale Di Via Libera' is a track which builds; from the depths it comes, ascending, rising, growing and developing into a driven, structured soundscape, where each rhythmic change and pattern sets up for a new section, all short, all different and all eye-closing and wondrous. This is feel good, feel it, feel the spirit music and it is gorgeous. The drum interlude is heart-felt and, with the bass, creates a menacing, spiritual sense of control being in the hands of the musicians. The listener is led through several tempo changes, yet underlying it right through is one driving thundering beat delivered with technique which Federico Ughi has well honed. The sax enters for the final section and the ending is short and sweet. ' Blues Apart' is gentler , still working out a pictorial musical soundscape for the listener and still adding several musical tricks to scales to engage the ears. The tracks become heavier, deliberately laboured with the drums and bass working their rhythm out under the sax which sails away on its own discoveries.

'Emergency Exit' sets off with a drum solo - which includes in just under 40 seconds, 4 rhythm changes before the bass joins and there follows a bass led section before the sax wolfs in across both, delivering screaming top notes counterbalanced with delicate lower register riffs. The three musicians then contrive to create a network of music, each filling any gap in the musical mesh which is left - and there are few. This is instinctive improvisation and is a joy to listen to. I didn't want this to end but it did. 'Transoceanico' serves up a different mood, feel and working between the musicians. Melodic phrases tuned into hard tongued knife edges of sound push their way into a relatively stable bass and drum line. Good music. 'Sky Ramblin'' is spacial, atmospheric and works its way through several different sensory developments whilst 'Quando Andiamo' (bonus track) opens with bass , beautiful, solo and deeply resonant. Sax and percussion add their voices but every so often the rounded tones of the bass emerge from the deep. It gets louder, faster and intense but this track has behind it a melancholia and the ferocity of the sax is amazing.

Throughout this recording there is such energy and intensity which the listener feels and remains undiminished after several listens. The media I listened to this on played it in a loop - which was a blessing. Musson on sax is superb and steals the listening lines in many places but there is a sense that is fine and when the Adam Lane on bass and Federico Ughi on drums do their thing, that too is fine and they too add to the wonder of this recording. Beautiful improvised music.


Adam Lane (bass)
Rachel Musson (saxophone)
Federico Ughi (drums)