Basso Valdambrini Quintet – Fonit H602-H603


El Gato
Local Times
From Me
Gold Mine
Pick Up
Washington Bridge
The Jolly
E' Molto Facile
Costa Dell'Ovest
SKU: RW154LP Categories: ,


Two Records and a Market
We might shout "Long live CD!" when we look at the reissue you hold in your
hands. But don'?t 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: it'?s 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 you'?re 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 can'?t 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 weren'?t 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 Piana'?s 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 band'?s 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 Mulligan'?s 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 (Italy'?s 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 '?official'? recordings 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 Usignolo'? and 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 collector'?s 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