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Saturday, June 17, 2023

Roots Magic – Long Old Road (Clean Feed, 2023)

By Guido Montegrandi

Roots Magic is Alberto Popolla, clarinets, electric bass, banjo; Errico De Fabritiis, alto and baritone saxophones; Eugenio Colombo, flutes, soprano saxophone; Francesco Lo Cascio, vibraphone, percussion; Gianfranco Tedeschi, double bass; and Fabrizio Spera, drums, percussion, zither. They started as a quartet in 2013 and now, since August ‘21 when Eugenio Colombo and Francesco Lo Cascio joined in, they have been established as a sextet. This is their fourth album and the first with the enlarged set up. Their creative path, on the other way, has confirmed its direction “somewhere between deep Blues and creative Jazz” (Roots Magic site) joining the blues of the origin with the creative black music of the 60s and the 70s also including references to black literature and culture as indicated by the quoting of Toni Morrison (track 2), Benjamin Zephaniah (track 3) and Z.Z. Packer (track 8).

In November 2020, interviewed by Musica Jazz Magazine, the musicians declared that they had grown up listening to this music (delta blues and creative music) and that they recognize its strong influence so as to feel rooted into its tradition. Their first record - Hoodoo Blue - Roots Magic also included a quote by Evan Parker “my roots are in my record player” to mark their belonging to this cultural heritage.

Long Old Road is made of 9 tracks: five are Roots Magic originals and four are renditions of creative Black music.

In the opening track - When The Elephant Walks (by Kahil El'Zabar) - the reeds develop a rhythmic groove supported by a bass ostinato from which the solos emerge; this feature will return many times in the whole album like in Drinking Coffee Elsewhere (Quoting Z.Z. Packer) and Run As Slow As You Can (Quoting Benjamin Zephaniah) in which the spellbinding theme phrase drives the soloes to follow the same direction meandering around it to be finally carried away by the hypnotic rhythm.

Other pieces like Sula (Quoting Toni Morrison) and Blue Lines (For Muhal Richard Abrams) are more in the tradition of Chicagoan creative music with open sections and incisive drumming.

The title track Long Old Road (by Bessie Smith) is characterized by a bass and horns ostinato that allows the clarinet to design the melody then everything thins out becoming more abstract with shreds of melodies and a pervasive bass groove, a good example of the way Roots Magic approaches the blues tradition.

All of the music is carefully structured and organized in a way that gives melodic elements the possibility to emerge; the enlarged line up offers many possibilities and the sound is rich and varied (Frank Zappa Grand Wazoo is just behind the corner). The pieces are developed with love and respect for the original but with a personal approach that the group has developed during the years and the result is an enjoyable album for your ear and much food for your thoughts about the place Blues and Black music in have in the contemporary culture.

When we finish listening to this record a good exercise will be to go back to the original songs to have a perspective view of the long old road that has been traveled; for example listen to the closing Things Have Got To Change (by Cal Massey) and then go back to Archie Shepp 1971 record… love and respect as they say.