THE SOUND LABYRINTHS OF FREEDOM
by Marco Maria Tosolini
Meaningful coincidences frequently happen in the history of human artistic expressions related to great social themes. Sometimes they do not appear as coincidences, but rather as a kind of “calls” whereby creativity becomes a more suggestive subject in comparison with, for example, a reasoned essay. Exactly sixty years have elapsed from the time when, with courage and determination, coloured percussionist and composer Max Roach published his “We Insist! Freedom Now Suite”. This was characterized by a cover of a decidedly provocative style: a picture portraying three African Americans sitting at a bar counter, looking towards the camera lens with rather non-submissive gazes, while a perplexed white barman was wiping an object and observing the three youths with some preoccupation. This rich series of pieces possesses a similar artistic courage, considering their compositional and interpretive choices. The pieces are connected by a common thematic thread, i.e. that of the celebration of freedom and of some of liberty’s protagonists, as well as of (one may well say) its martyrs.
Before giving some interpretive suggestions about the music of “Freedom”, signed by Alex and Morris Sebastianutto, it is worth mentioning that the composers (i.e. Miani, Messieri, Molteni, Ianne, Lugli and Schiavo) were inspired by people (i.e. Malcolm X, in two instances, Martin Luther King, Gandhi and the three Mirabal sisters) who all died a violent death. In one more case, that of Palach, such a death was self-procured precisely due to his fearless and uncompromising fight for freedom and freedoms.
Evidently the musicians who authored these works have been deeply stimulated by the subject, by the perception of these inspiring personalities, by the settling in time of the never-soothed racial problem, which only recently resurfaced on the media.
This aural work derives its overall raison d’être and expressive power (in spite of the vibrant diversity of the compositional styles) from the engagement of the two performers. They not only were able to overcome the connotative limits of their instruments (i.e. alto sax and trumpet), but also transformed them into two transfiguring aural realities. It is almost an alchemic process of music, with the undisputable contribution of the creative qualities of the composers who dedicated their pieces to these two musicians.
The two performers’ artistic maturation finds its dynamic accomplishment in this itinerary; it is almost a point of no return, where the path of so-called “classical music” becomes a workshop for a broad kind of listening and an intense expression. In fact, the Sebastianutto brothers are not jazz musicians, and this makes their capability of interacting with deeply different stylistic worlds even freer, wider and more cultivated.
Indeed, jazz music was born as a music destined for the entertainment and implicitly expressing freedom for the US Afro-American community. It was frequently imitated and “appropriated” by the Whites, and became art music, with an extraordinary explicit freedom, particularly with the avant-gardes of the Fifties and Sixties.
Later, however, as the giants passed away (presently, only the nonagenarian Sonny Rollis is still alive) and with the present global transformation, jazz frequently turned into academia, and lost its biting power and its cruelty, even on the ideal plane.
“Freedom”, the work recorded here, seems to overcome many boundaries, precisely as freedom does, giving identity and recognizability to each piece, also through wonderful citations. In the galvanizing Just X by Marco Molteni (track 3) it is impossible not to be reminded of Frank Zappa’s hyper-structured frenzy; this piece, dedicated to Malcolm X, also hides echoes from Stravinsky (whom Zappa worshipped, along with Varèse’s polymetries).
The performative skill of both the sax and the trumpet player creates crazy and yet precise nets, with carefully selected electronic sounds. There are winks to an “industrial sound”, tasting of modernist and post-Futurist consciousness, riding on it without being subjugated by it. Approximately halfway through the piece, this sonorous storm veers toward a kind of a hypothetically visual “slow motion” with extended sounds. Later it starts again, toward a stuttering reprise of more agitated moments. There is much metal, with echoes of tense bows and strident steel, where the instruments’ voices clot the whole; they almost seem benevolent ghosts, walking in the midst of the hardness of the urban world’s sounds.
Against that harsh and unfair world, Malcolm X himself protested in his famous speech, “The ballot or the bullet”, given on April 12th, 1964, in an inflamed Detroit. A recorded fragment of that speech becomes the beginning of the album’s opening piece, i.e. Trapped by Renato Miani. The evolutions of Alex Sebastianutto’s sax, an aural imitation of a fabler’s delirium, unroll a true “speech” provoking the interventions of the electric bass (with the slap technique typical of Black funk) and a Hammond-like organ, marked by a timbral/stylistic pertinence with a strong evocative power. Entire portions of the piece are sustained by an unceasing rhythmical beat, almost a “bass-drum in four”, as is typical of consumer-music percussions. However, the piece also opens itself to lyrical moments, with ghost-like and destructured echoes of Gospel choruses. There is even a hint of “scratch” technique, simulated through air blows on the reed. All of these tools allow a great management of the sax’ multifaceted expression, pointing out also some free-jazz-like moments.
Also the second track, A deep belief, composed by Massimiliano Messieri, is inspired by a powerfully evocative historical speech. In this case, it is made of Martin Luther King jr’s questions in his “What is your life’s blueprint”, a talk which both inflamed and moved the souls on October 26th, 1997 as he was addressing the students of the Barratt Junior High School of Philadelphia. A female voice innervates the piece’s beginning, creating an almost mystical atmosphere, which is later powered and transfigured by the voices of the trumpet and of the sax, which seem to sorrowfully celebrate an ancient and deeply spiritual discant. The background permanence of electronic sounds becomes a measured dramatic opposition: they are dangerous but not invasive and, in their midst, fragments from Martin Luther King’s son’s words occasionally resurface, like wandering remains of memory. A silken, ethereal two-part conclusion sings the suspended melancholy of the “Blues people”.
Apocalyptical sounds, rapidly fading as in a fire, are the burning introduction to the tortured Jan’s Shriek by Lamberto Lugli. Jan Palach sacrificed himself for freedom in Prague on January 19th, 1969, setting himself on fire in order to protest against the pro-Soviet Czechoslovak regime. Jan’s Shriek is a complex journey within the sax’ innumerable expressive techniques and possibilities, in dialogue with a very rich sound texture, with changes in metre and tempo, and with timbral situations in which the overall multiformity becomes a labyrinth of ideas. Within this labyrinth, however, the sax’ thematic-improvisational evolution becomes Ariadne’s thread, crossing “rooms” and corridors similar to an imaginary steady-cam. Here the performer offers even double sounds, limpid harmonics which turn the sax into an aural Prometheus, leading it beyond the usual (though beautiful) sounds. This is always done while magnifying the powerful and inexhaustible creativity of Lugli, the composer, who does not forget to include aural ghosts from military marches, pitiless electronic beats and a constant dramatic tension.
Also the title of the fifth track, Samādhi Gandhi by Stefano Ianne seems to be very fitting and proper. In Sanskrit, Samādhi defines the merging of those who practise contemplation with the very object of their meditation. In simpler terms (and music helps us here), any musician from an Afro-American or Asian background, or any musician who is inclined to intense transcendence is likely to state that, when he or she is playing an instrument, they try to merge themselves with that instrument, or even to actually “become” it. The iteration of the initial harmonic-melodic formula for electronic sounds immediately indicates a vaguely hypnotic project, similar to those cherished by minimalism. However, both the trumpet and the sax start very soon to fragment some thematic micro-cells, or simple syncopations on a single note; this produces an overall feeling of circularity (or rather of a spiralling motion) which is a deep feature of the Hindu thought and feeling. The velvety and mellow sounds purposefully embrace other similar sounds, sparingly allowing the solo instruments to emerge. Here too, recorded voices from the protagonists’ speeches increase the piece’s evocative features, up to a suggestively… labyrinthic and obsessive development, with a tribute to the modernity of the Seventies. Here the spirit of the best Miles Davis hovers, i.e. that of his final electroacoustic and electronic period.
The last three pieces composed by Leonardo Schiavo could only be mysterious and poetic; they are inspired by the three Mirabal sisters, who were massacred on November 25th, 1960, by the killers of Trujillo’s dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. These are three exceedingly fine miniatures, where are observed, fluttering, the three “mariposas” (butterflies: so they were nicknamed within the “June 14th Movement”, fighting for freedom at that time). They are interpreted by a ghost-flute in dialogue with the sax’ and trumpet’s sounds, which are at times lyrical, at times cutting, at times alienating. This metaphor tells us about the grace and innocence, but also the determination and youthful strength, of these three young women, who were martyrs for freedom. The end of this aural journey is marked by a wide, lyrical and broad singing, whereby the reverberation seems to be a true breath, while the intertwining of simple dreamy melodies opens the sounds to light.
Translation: Chiara Bertoglio
Alex Sebastianutto: He graduated in “Saxophone Performance” from “Conservatorio J. Tomadini” in Udine with full marks and then obtained a Master’s degree in “Teaching of Instrumental Music”.
He studied with M. Gerboni at “Conservatorio G. Frescobaldi” in Ferrara where he obtained a Master’s degree in “Saxophone Performance” (full marks with honors). He also obtained a full marks Master’s degree in “Chamber Music”.
At “Conservatorio G. Verdi” in Milan he studied and specialized with J. M. Londeix and other internationally renowned professors. He won 12 National and International first prizes and performed in prestigious festivals in Italy and abroad including: “World Saxophone Congress” (Slovenia and Croatia); “Biennale di Venezia”; “Ravenna Festival”; “Stage Internazionale del Saxofono” (Fermo); “39th Navy Band International Saxophone Symposium” (Washington D.C., USA). In 2019 he was invited in Taiwan where he performed as a soloist and, as saxophone teacher, held masterclass in various Universities.
He played and performed with several orchestras, among them: “Orchestra Filarmonica Veneta”; “FVG Mitteleuropa Orchestra”; “Orchestra del Teatro Verdi di Trieste”; “Orchestra del Teatro Lirico di Cagliari”; “Orchestra del Teatro San Carlo di Napoli”; “FORM Orchestra Filarmonica Marchigiana”; “Orchestra Filarmonica del Teatro La Fenice di Venezia”; “Berliner Symphoniker Orchestra”; “Orchestra di Padova e del Veneto” under the direction of acclaimed conductors such as Enrico Bronzi, Daniel Oren and Wayne Marshall, to name a few.
Since he is actively involved in promoting contemporary music, various compositions have been dedicated to him by many contemporary composers: S. Movio, D. Hurtado (Venezuela), S. Melillo (USA), C. Lauba (France) and many others.
His career includes performances and recordings for Italian National Television networks (RAI and Mediaset), Italian National Radio (RAI Radio 3), recordings for various labels (“Intersections”, “Faces”, “Zahir”, “Viaje”, “Solo”).
He is widely praised for his concert performances, recordings and teaching activities that he promotes in Italy and abroad with his “MAC Saxophone Quartet”.
As a professor, at the present time he is in charge of “Saxophone course” at “Liceo Musicale C. Percoto" in Udine.
He is a Selmer, D’Addario and LeFreque endorser.
Morris Sebastianutto: In 2002 Morris Sebastianutto received a degree in Trumpet Performance from the conservatory "J. Tomadini " in Udine.
In 2008 he obtained a second level academic diploma (Master) in "Musical Disciplines and Wind Instruments_Trumpet" from the Conservatorio "G. Frescobaldi" in Ferrara with full marks and honors where he studied with mº G. Parodi He then received a master’s degree in “Chamber Music” from the Conservatorio G. Frescobaldi in Ferrara in 2015, again graduating with full marks, and in 2017, he received a master’s degree in “Baroque Trumpet” from the Conservatorio G. Cantelli in Novara, where he studied with mº Gabriele Cassone.
He has participated in numerous competitions obtaining excellent results: two 1st prize (Castellana Grotte 2010, Roma 2017), two 2nd prize (Riccione 2008, Slovenia 2011) two 3rd prize (Rimini 2011, Alessandria 2015). In 2006 passed the audition for the Orchestra Giovanile Italiana. He also passed the Principal trumpet audition for the Stage Entertainment Orchestra (MI 2009), National Symphony Orchestra of the Dominican Republic (R.D. 2013), Symphony S.O.N.G. Orchestra (S. Korea 2016). He won the Principal trumpet position with Dunshan Symphony Wind Orchestra (Beijing, China 2017) and Orchestra Academia China (Beijing, China 2018).
He has collaborated as Princpal Trumpet with numerous orchestras, including the Milan Symphony Orchestra, Mitteleuropa Orchestra, Sofia Festival Orchestra, Orchestra Sinfonica Abruzzese, Stage Entertainment Orchestra, Japan Philharmonic Orchestra (ass. principal), Symphony S.O.N.G. Orchestra (S. Korea), DSWO (China), Central National Opera Orchestra of Beijing (China), NCPA Orchestra (Beijing – China), Orchestra Academia China of Beijing (China).
Active as a teacher he published two methods: “The Trumpeter Method - Progressive Exercises” and “The Trumpeter Method -Technical Studies”.
He can also be heard on two CDs: La Gola by the Bright Bells Trumpet Quartet, published in 2016, and My Profile, in which he performs as a soloist. Both were published by the record label ArteSuono.
Currently he is the Principal Trumpet of Orchestra Academia China
Massimiliano Messieri (1964), composer, conductor and music director of the MASKFEST (San Marino International Festival of New Music), he won the first prize in the International Competition of Composition 2 Agosto (Bologna, 1997), 100 note (New York, 2006), CMN (Miami, 2013) and various national competitions. His scores were commissioned and performed at the Town Theatre in Bologna, at the Festival delle Nazioni in Rome, at the International Festival Italian Mozart Association in Rovereto, at the Regional Parliament of Sachsen in Dresden, at the Martinu Hall in Prague, at the Schlosskirche in Ettersburg (Weimar), IIC (Hamburg, Copenhagen, Prague and San Francisco), 1° and 2° International Piano Competition in Republic of San Marino, Forfest Festival in Kromeriz, oh-ton in Oldenburg, Cracovia Sacra in Cracow, ArtX Detroit at the Max M. Fisher Music Center in Detroit, Spectrum Foundation in New York, CCRMA Stanford University, KSFNM Festival Kennesaw State University, La Sierra University and in other festivals of new music. He hold masterclasses and lectures at the Conservatory of Music in Cracow, DAMS University in Bologna, Kennesaw State University, International Forfest Festival in Kromeriz, IULM University in Milan, a La Sierra University in Riverside. He lives in San Marino, where he is Professor at the Istituto Musicale Sammarinese.