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Basso Valdambrini Quintet - Fonit H602-H603
Vinyl LP
£23.99

Basso Valdambrini Quintet

Fonit H602-H603

Schema Rearward

Released: 24th November 2014 | 20 track big band album

Two Records and a Market

We might shout Long live CD! when we look at the reissue you hold in your

hands. But dont forget that the staff of Schema Records have also

generously provided us with a vinyl version. Long live CD! might sound odd

at a time when the age of the CD seems to be all but over. Yet the compact

disc remains the most democratic format: not as elitist as the beautiful old 33

rpm record, which today is unfortunately absent from many home hi-fi

systems - and above all, not as ephemeral as the digital download format

that seems so much in fashion today. To some listeners the phonograph

record is still important: its associated with care, attention, concentration.

Like going to the cinema, compared to watching a movie on the screen of a

PC, another habit particularly in vogue today. Is it really comparable to

walking into a cinema, switching off the mobile and being captivated by a

story, as you empathise or identify yourself with an actor? Yes, the same is

true of listening to music, whether youre a fanatic or a casual devotee:

reverently handling the record case, admiring the packaging, browsing the

booklet and probing the details of archive photos... and maybe reading these

few introductory notes. These are all aspects that, even if they cant equal

the experience of listening, can surely enrich it. At least for the help they

provide in putting the listener in the right frame of mind. The iPod is definitely

a beautiful thing, but perhaps is most suited to being attached to joggers

arms. Here, the choice is up to you: Schema Records has made these

recordings available both as utilitarian CDs and beguiling vinyl.

Why this sociological introduction for the reissues of two Italian jazz records

of the early seventies? Because fate decided that these recordings of the

Gianni Basso and Oscar Valdambrini Quintet (cryptically entitled H602 and

H603 respectively) were born under a bad sign and were to be considered

second-class recordings by music professionals, and sometimes by the

musicians themselves. Fading into oblivion and unappreciated, these records

then reappeared as objects of worship, highly sought-after by avid collectors.

Desired, exchanged or sold for astronomical sums. In fact, these two discs

by the Basso-Valdambrini Quintet - the name by which one of the longest

lived and most prolific Italian jazz combos was known to aficionados -

originated as library music. A humble term, but one that indicates music

recorded to accompany radio and later television shows, to act as jingles or

simply provide musical interludes. They all date from December 1970. These

records had no commercial release and werent available in stores. That's

one of the reasons why they were viewed with some disdain. Yet they were

important for allowing musicians to earn a living, especially among what

Franco D'Andrea, remembering his early years, calls the first [Italian]

generation to realise, despite all the obstacles, that being a Jazz musician

could be a profession. And even more, these records were a way to spread

Jazz beyond the small Jazz clubs and to ensure that, while hardly realising it,

more people became acquainted with this music. It reached a wide audience

as a background for various forms of popular entertainment.

When those recordings came out, the Gianni Basso and Oscar Valdambrini Quintet had already released other LPs in

fifteen years of intense activity (the ensemble split up shortly afterwards). It was a group that - even with a frequently

changing rhythm section, in which Ettore Righello and Renato Sellani alternated at the piano and Lionello Bionda and Gil

Cuppini took turns behind the drums, not to mention some occasions in which the quintet morphed into sextet, with the

addition of Dino Pianas trombone - enjoyed a considerable international reputation. In these two LPs from the Usignolo

series one can definitely hear a band at its peak, their music achieved through empathy and common feeling rather than

just pursuit of commercial success. The improvisations are always stimulating, as well as the variety of the repertoire on

offer. The latter could have easily been opportunistically chosen, considering the underlying utilitarian purpose of library

music, but instead it offers strong evidence of the bands expressive power. Looking at the original pressings, the simple

graphic design of their covers and the utter lack of information stimulates intense curiosity. Each piece of music was

simply given a caption, describing it in terms of classical music and providing practical guidance for whoever - the

director or programmer - had to select the music. We will never know exactly what radio programs accompanied Mick

or Valba but it certainly inspires the imagination to read alongside these titles descriptions such as modern, incisive

theme or nervous and snappy Allegro. Or even more very modern Moderato featuring new Jazz experiences for

Maglione. Or, Moderato with references to Mulligans style. Meditative theme...; the bold description of Gum.

Glaucus on the other hand is described as: Moderato mosso. Very interesting, especially for the bold conception of the

melody. Of course these naive descriptions could raise a smile, but we should listen to the music while bearing in mind

the pompous institutional reality of RAI (Italys national public radio broadcaster). Perhaps now, more than ever, when

scores are produced with computers, we can feel a sense of truthfulness and artistry even in these seemingly

disconnected fragments. Not to mention that these records were in no way inferior to their counterparts, the LPs which

were officially available on the market. Franco D'Andrea recalls his experience as pianist of the band leaded by Enzo

Scoppa and Cicci Santucci, saying without hesitation that the soundtrack recordings that we carried out, what we used

to call library music, and which we considered no more than a warm up for our 'officialrecordings for the marketplace,

turned out to be much more interesting than the latter.

The marketplace indeed. There are interesting aspects to the relationship between these recordings and the market.

Let's start from the beginning: the Usignolo series was specially set up by Fonit Cetra for commercial reasons. Or, to be

more accurate, opportunism. Fonit Cetra at the time was a powerful record label with a considerable market penetration

across several music genres. But even more, it was intimately linked to RAI in its ownership structure. And RAI, at least

till the mid seventies, remained the sole beneficiary of music scores. This prevented Fonit realising its full potential, since

releasing all his recordings on RAI programs infringed the customs and rules of fair competition against other

independent labels of that time. Horo above all. In a classic Italian manner, a loophole was found: the records came out

under the brand 'Serie Usignoloand Fonit could take full advantage of its alliance with RAI. Not a particularly well kept

secret, perhaps, but it served well enough through the years.

And what about the musicians? Was there any struggle to put together these recording sessions? Not much, recalls

Adriano Mazzoletti, a living encyclopaedia of the world of radio. On one hand, these seemed to many to be second

class recordings. But on the other, we must consider that at that time there were not so many instrumentalists at ease

with the forms of modern Jazz. At least for the kind of music produced for use on TV and radio shows. Mazzoletti

continues: These were recordings carried out in Rome and Milan - the haunts of Valdambrini and Basso - and in both

cities there was a RAI orchestra. It was from their ranks that the most gifted jazz players were chosen. Furthermore, this

was incredibly convenient: since these musicians were working at RAI, they could not receive any royalties for any of

their compositions included in the soundtracks. Royalties were to be considered part of the salary of the orchestral

performance. This explaining the slightly altered names associated with the compositions. This was common practise,

although from research carried out for the three discs here, the authorship of the songs has been established with a fair

degree of certainty.

These records have always been caught up with the market and its logic, although in an unorthodox way. Even more

interesting is the new relationship they developed with the market long after their initial releases, when those few rare

original copies were distributed. Perhaps because of the appeal that Italian and Easy Listening Jazz of the sixties and

seventies had begun to exert on the Japanese market first, and then on the American one, those copies became sought

after collectors items. Originally intended as vehicles of musical mass communication, the recordings became collector's

fetishes enjoyed by a small and often fanatical minority of people, a sharply ironic reversal of their nature. On the Internet

- that whimsical and changeable medium - prices have soared: a copy of H603 has sold for over $400. The collector

market is a parallel reality based on a simple financial logic, but also driven by the emotions of the collectors. And it is not

difficult to come across collectors who are moved by the possession of the rarity rather than its actual artistic content,

and are likely to treat records as some sort of relic on their shelves, with a small label on the plastic cover indicating price

and conditions of the LP and of the sleeve. But when one goes to talk with them, hoping to hear something new and rare,

the answer is often Well, you know... if I play the record, the needle could damage it a little, halving its value.

Discouraging. But today a whole new chapter begins in the long history of these two outstanding records: now for the first

time they will be easy to find, available for sale to the public and - crucially - at an affordable price. Happy listening.

Andrea Di Gennaro