PERFORMER: Dolmen Orchestra, Nicola Pisani (cond, ss), Marco Sannini, Alfredo Sette (t), Yves Robert, Franco Angiulo, Giuseppe Savino (tb), Nuccio Trotta (tuba), Claudio Lugo (ss, as), Felice Mezzina (ss, as), Vittorio Gallo (ss, ts), Achille Succi (cl), Gianni Lenoci (p, syn), Giorg


Although the exuberant, freewheeling Instabile Orchestra has attracted more jazz-press attention in the past decade, the Dolmen Orchestra – from Italy’s Apulia region, where Eastern influence is strong – is just as intriguing and imaginative as its more celebrated compatriots.

In 2000 the orchestra, led by Nicola Pisani, released a suite inspired by Gregorian chant featuring French tuba/serpent player Michel Godard and UK multi-reedsman John Surman; its second Leo album, this time with French guest trombonist Yves Robert, explores the Minotaur myth, particularly its fictional treatment by Swiss writer Friedrich Dürrenmatt in his story ‘A Ballad’.

The multilingual puns contained in the piece’s title inform the music throughout with the sort of eclecticism that characterises much Italian big-band music. The banda tradition, which is one of the album’s chief sources, embraces opera, traditional dance rhythms and popular song with equal fervour, but jazz, from free improvisation back through the large-ensemble work of Charles Mingus and Gil Evans to that of Duke Ellington, is clearly its mainspring.

The ‘conduction’ method of organising improvised music devised by US composer Butch Morris provides both a jumping-off point and a thread running through the suite. Vocal input ranges from readings from Dürrenmatt to non-verbal contributions of sighs, mutterings and shrieks both joyous and fearful from Cristina Zavalloni.

Meanwhile Yves Robert’s trombone skilfully reproduces the whole gamut of emotions through which the Minotaur passes. Underneath all the highly individual, project-specific aspects of this dense, allusive music, however, lies a great jazz big band, as alert to the possibilities of spontaneity as it is to the virtues of pin-smart arrangement and ensemble precision.


The result is an immediately enjoyable as well as intellectually stimulating piece, as notable for its extraordinarily original yet wholly accessible use of the big-band tradition as for the fascinating light it sheds on Italian perceptions of the disturbingly ambiguous but perennially powerful Minotaur story. Chris Parker