Maximum City: The Music of Massimo Urbani
In researching this piece, it was necessary that I translate several web pages with biographical information from Italian to English. Using on-line translation software is kind of like using a nuclear hand grenadeit does the job but makes a mess in the process. These software units cannot distinguish between proper names and regular narrative text, thus they try to translate the proper names as well as other text. My subject is the late Italian alto saxophonist Massimo Urbani. The translator I chose interpreted the saxophonist's name as "Maximum City." In a very real way, this is most appropriate. Massimo Urbani was a large, broad man. On the cover photo of Via GT Urbani dwarfs his alto saxophone as he shares the stage with the legendary Giovanni Tommaso. I suspect that Mr. Urbani's temperament was derivative of his nameurbane. I further suspect that he had a big warm personality...when it suited him.
Massimo Urbani was born in Rome into a large family in 1957. His parents were of humble stock, his father working as a janitor at a local high school. He became enamored with jazz at an early age and at 16 years old was first committed to record on Mario Schiano's Sud. According to The All Music Guide, Massimo Urbani appeared on a total of 17 recordings: 10 under his own name, six with other leaders, and one compilation recording. The liner notes of Urbani's finest recording, The Blessing details that the saxophonist died alone at the age of 36 of a heroin overdose on June 24, 1993.
Sergio Veschi had the opportunity to record Massimo Urbani for his RED Records label on several occasions resulting in five releases. Veschi has just released the entire five-CD output of Massimo Urbani's recordings for the label. These five releases are comprised of four discs recorded under Urbani's leadership and one recorded under the leadership of bassist Giovanni Tommaso featuring Urbani. Massimo Urbani was a singular Italian talent who burned brightly for a short time leaving an indelible mark on the face of Jazz. His tone and attack was large and urgent. His technique was studied and his velocity light speed. Massimo Urbani deserves this recognition.
360 Degree Aeutopia
(RED Records 146, recorded 1979)
Ray Noble's novelty tune, "Cherokee" was one of the vehicles with which Charlie Parker changed jazz. Urbani tears into the tune at a fierce clip with no hint of the original melody. It is not until pianist Ron Burton begins to solo that the familiar line emerges and then submerges into the universe of Be Bop. Drummer Beaver Harris is allowed ample solo room before the ensemble joins back in and completes the piece with the straight melody carried by Urbani. With his Be Bop chops firmly established on this quartet outing, Massimo Urbani show himself an effective balladeer on the lengthy "Tender Song." Urbani and his quartet effectively build a swinging tension in the piece, propelling that tension with space. All of the instruments are easily heard as parts of the overall sum of the song. Urbani de-mystifies Miles Davis' exquisite composition "Solar," turning it into a Be Bop romp. The last three pieces on the disc were written by drummer Beaver Harris. They differ considerably in tone and content from the first three pieces on the disc. The harmonic composition of the pieces reveals a more modern (read that post-Be Bop) vision. Urbani takes them on, soloing con brio on "Rip the Ripper. " "Ballad for a Child" is a drummerless lullaby with Urbani showing off his ballad prowess. "Diddy for Biddy" is a Gospel vamp, opened by Urbani with a swinging abandon full of blues and the church. When this recording was made, Massimo Urbani was 22 years old, already a fully formed artist.
(RED Records 160, recorded 1980)