Italian drummer and composer Tommaso Moretti settled in Chicago in 2013 after playing with folks like Ken Vandermark and Ernest Dawkins in his homeland, but he didn’t come across my radar until last year, when he appeared on the eponymous debut album of Bottle Tree—a smart, progressive R&B trio with multiinstrumentalist Ben Lamar Gay and singer A.M. Frison. He shows a different but equally satisfying side of his musicianship with his new album SemoComeSemo (Amalgam Music), a dynamic jazz-quartet recording of original compositions that deftly infuse sleek postbop with Italian folk traditions. Moretti’s music alternates between brisk hurtling movement and buoyant swing. Pianist Matt Piet underlines that sense of propulsion, adding hints of Monkish tartness and soul-jazz flavor and conveying melodic ebullience in tandem with the sounds of Gay’s joyful, bright-toned cornet in one of the strongest instances of pure jazz playing from both of them that I’ve experienced. Bassist Devin Foster deftly holds down the bottom, letting the drummer accelerate into giddy wildness on the spirited “Appocundade.” Many of the pieces, including the one tune the leader didn’t write—the bossa nova-kissed “Ma La Vita Continua” by film composer Nino Rota—add dollops of avuncular humor a la Italian Instabile Orchestra (which made an art of braiding Italian music with vanguard jazz). “The Cowboy Twist” pushes more explicitly toward pop music, using English lyrics and a puckish bridge. Given the combination of elements, one might think it would resemble a theme to a spaghetti western, but instead it evokes Sonny Rollins playing Johnny Mercer’s “I’m an Old Cowhand.”
Reviewed by Peter Margasak for the Chicago Reader.
SemoComeSemo in Roman dialect means we are what we are.
The project’s idea takes shape from drummer and composer Tommaso Moretti’s need to confront his artistic inspirations. The musical result is a natural reflection of the musician’s life evolution. Decontextualized Italian folk elements find their own way to interact with the Chicago avant-garde context through a balanced formula of open improvisation and detailed composition. Sharp angles of complex rhythms are softened by open hearted melodies inspired by the the pastel colors of the Italian 60’s surrealism movie scene. Time illusions and nostalgic harmonies are used by the musicians as a tool to open a gate and connect with the poetry of that dreamy dimension and its goofy characters.
Tommaso Moretti Quartet is:
Ben Lamar Gay - Cornet, flute, melodica, percussion, vocals
Matt Piet - Piano, melodica
Devin Foster - Bass
Tommaso Moretti - Drums, percussion, guitar, vocals
All songs written by Tommaso Moretti (ASCAP) except "Ma La Vita Continua," written by Nino Rota.
Recorded at Bel Air Sound Studios by Todd Carter in April of 2017.
Mixed and mastered by Bill Harris.