Andrea Guzzoletti is a key member of his generation’s musical brain trust, along with Barga Jazz Festival director Alessandro Rizzardi and former Barga Jazz club president Simone Venturi. All of them are principal figures in a remarkable array of bands and combos. Each is an acknowledged master of his preferred instruments, Rizzardi on the sax and mandolin, Venturi on the piano, Guzzoletti on the trumpet. What also distinguishes them is an approach that combines music with ideas, deep thought with energetic action. They are searchers.
Guzzoletti is literally a pilgrim. He has walked the celebrated path to Santiago de Campostela twice and plans to walk it again this year. His reputation as a world-class trumpet maestro has carried him to the far corners of the Earth. Travel is never simply a matter of geography, he says. “It is above all a journey of the mind,” signposted by meditations on the human condition.
Which makes his de facto collaboration with the Italian writer Italo Calvino (1923-1985) a perfect partnership.
Last night, at Barga’s Teatro dei Differenti, Guzzoletti presented his spell-binding composition “Invisible Cities,” a journey in sound and thought inspired by Calvino’s 1972 masterpiece of the same title. Its narrative frame is an invented conversation between the Medieval Venetian traveler Marco Polo and his host in China, the Yuan Dynasty emperor and Mongol conqueror Kublai Khan. Polo takes the emperor (and Calvino’s readers) on a fantasized journey to 55 imaginary cities, some of them dedicated to desire or memory, others to the dead. He writes of cities that are thin, cities that trade and cities that are hidden
“I first read Calvino’s book in 2006,” says Guzzoletti. “It is highly unusual in every way, in its wording, in its composition. It can seem random. Yet in fact it has an absolutely precise structure, and it is in its structure that the book’s meaning lies: a classic marriage of idea and form. From the moment I finished reading ‘Invisible Cities,’ I knew that I had to respond to it in music.”
With Keane, the artist and editor of Barganews, acting as a conceptual sounding board, Guzzoletti chose suggestive names for his own nine imagined cities: “Kaleidoscope,” “Industrial,” “Mirrored,” “Toy,” “Terminal,” “Underground,” “Rainbow,” “Last City” and “City of God.” His aim was to listen to his own creations — to seek out his cities’ expressive sounds — and to invite us into a contemplative space where we too can hear them. Keane is also responsible for the video installations, stage design and Duomo bas-relief paintings that set the scene for Guzzoletti’s music, the opening event of the 2015 BargaJazz Festival.
One of Calvino’s literary conceits is that the Italian Marco Polo and the Mongol emperor have no spoken language in common. Their conversation relies on objects, artifacts from Polo’s journeys and the Mongol conquests, which convey descriptive meaning in the absence of mutually comprehensible words.
“Like Calvino, I use objective, physical phenomena to build my descriptions,” Guzzoletti says. “Take ‘Mirrored City,’” he continues, alluding to a dreamlike eliptical movement in his composition. “Its subject is a city on a lake, a natural mirror, full of reflections expressed in music. Or my ‘Underground City, above which there is no sky. Its entire life unfolds in subterranean corridors. Its music is oscura, dark and shadowy.”
AN ENDLESS WORK IN PROGRESS
The concert we heard in the theatre hall on August 18 was not the same as the recorded version sold on CDs outside in the lobby. Nor is it the concert the next live audience of “Invisible Cities” will hear. The city is a metaphor for endless diversity, a dizzying mosaic of individual journeys. A permanent work in progress that defies completion. Guzzoletti opened every passage in his hommage with an excerpt from the original “Invisible Cities,” read in the mesmerizing voice of John De Leo — then surged, musically, beyond the text.
Among all the feats that Guzzoletti’s ensemble achieved at the Teatro dei Differenti, the most extraordinary was to pick up where Italo Calvino left off and expand on it. Just as a city, left to its own organic energies, never ceases to expand and metamorphize.
It is impossible to overstate the talents of the artists who undertook that daunting task, notably De Leo. At times, his voice was as raucous and untamed as the distant origins of human community in the East African Rift. At other times, it was as tender as a lover’s whisper. From beginning to end, an electronic back-beat, set to recorded tonal poems from Guzzoletti’s trumpet and occasional vocal riffs, filled every available space, accompanying the musicians as they wove their tapestry. Cities abhor empty fields.
In the final piece, “City of God” — so seamless in its blending of Guzzoletti’s horns, Stefano Onorati’s brilliant piano and Walter Paoli’s galvanizing percussion that you felt the harmonic spheres gyrating — the voice of De Leo had the stentorian force of heavenly command, a jazz-crazed Jehovah. Through the night, he shifted, with barely a pause for breath, from variations on scat-singing to torch-song laments and cacophonic squeals. It was a bravura performance. As was Guzzoletti’s: another chameleon, who alternated among four different instruments, both reed and brass, before the evening’s final note sounded.
Is his “Invisible Cities” nine compositions? Or a single composition in nine parts? “It is both,” Guzzoletti said before the concert. “It could be a portrait of a huge metropolis with nine separate districts. Or it could be nine different cities. I wanted that ambiguity.”
He had it, eloquently. His music and his musicians had it, unforgettably. And if Italo Calvino was listening in Jazz Jehovah heaven, he surely smiled down on Barga.
Article by Frank Viviano
Frank Viviano is the author or co-author of seven books, including the critically-acclaimed Blood Washes Blood, Dispatches From the Pacific Century and In the Balkans (with Magnum photographer Nikos Economopoulos).