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Marco Tranchina
More Than Ever

by Howard Lawes




Marco Tranchina



Italians have long had "una storia d'amore con il jazz", and in fact, the second longest running jazz magazine (after Downbeat) in the world is Musica Jazz, published in Milan, which has the tagline "Dal 1945, jazz, blues e altre belle musiche per l'anima" (Jazz, blues and other beautiful music for the soul since 1945).  Sadly, one of the concerts that didn't take place during the 2021 EFG London Jazz Festival was the return of Italian jazz piano maestro Stefano Bollani following his 2017 Cadogan Hall gig which was described by one reviewer as "Bonkers but brilliant". Some of the other Italians playing this beautiful music, apart from Bollani, include pianists Enrico Pieranunzi and Paolo Conte, trumpeters Enrico Rava and Paolo Fresu and saxophonists Claudio Fasoli and Roberto Ottaviano.  Marco Tranchina Smat FiveHoping to join this illustrious group is pianist and composer Marco Tranchina and his band the Smät Five whose album More Than Ever was released on Ubuntu Records in February.

Talking to Marco, he described how early rehearsals with the band were frustrated, not only by the pandemic but also ill-health, so the fact that the album has eventually been released is a testament to the determination and resilience of all involved.  These early setbacks led to the choice of title for the album which, as Marco emphasised, wanted more than ever, to have this first album as leader completed as soon as possible and it is clearly a very personal statement. 

Music in general and jazz, in particular, have been part of Marco's life for many years. Early UK bands of the 1980s such as The Smiths and The Clash inspired his musical career along with studying in Italy and learning from the likes of Enrico Pieranunzi.  He performed with several bands as part of Italy's thriving jazz festival scene but in 2005 he moved to London for sentimental reasons where he resumed his academic study of jazz piano, first at Middlesex University learning with Nikki Iles and Gareth Williams and then at Kingston University where he obtained a Masters Degree in Music Composition for Film and TV.  Marco has performed with several bands as sideman in the UK and teaches both at The Big Creative Academy in Walthamstow and the Plumstead Centre, Greenwich.

The Smät Five have Marco Tranchina (piano), Alan Short (saxophone), Andrea Solarino (guitar), Mikele Montolli (bass) and Filippo Galli (drums). All the musicians have trained in Italy and are now based in London but as Marco pointed out, should the Smät Five embark on a European tour it will be easier being Italian nationals to travel and work in other European countries.  Marco has known each of his band-members for several years and has developed a great musical relationship and mutual trust within the band; the album was recorded over two days at the Fish Factory Studios in London.  Ubuntu Music publicity describes Marco Tranchina's music as "original compositions that blend a unique melange of his eclectic approach to the modern jazz idiom, combined with the warm sounds and sensibilities stemming from his Mediterranean musical upbringing". Also apparent is Marco's intelligent approach to composition, the inspiration provided by some of the great names in modern jazz such as Kenny Wheeler, Kenny Garrett and John Coltrane, and the lessons learned in his academic studies.


Here's a video of the title track More Than Ever:




The title track, More Than Ever, is very much in the bebop style with some intense saxophone and guitar improvisation, sometimes solo, sometimes simultaneously, putting down a marker for the other tracks that follow on the album.  Saxophonist Alan Short, who also plays with the Grooverazors band, is a real find and deserves to be far better known than he is; Nitro, inspired by Kenny Wheeler and the explosive impact of his music and Axioma inspired by a Kenny Garrett composition, Sing A Song Of Song, both feature Alan Short to great effect. Holger's Dream is a tune prompted by a discussion with an architect friend of Marco who dreamt of designing a building that could move. The tune includes what are called "pedal points" whereby musical dissonance is introduced over a sustained chord and is a device used by Duke Ellington and Herbie Hancock to create tension within a composition. 


Listen to Holger's Dream.




More music theory has been employed in 4.3 Circle Song where Marco took the chords of John Coltrane's Giant Steps and altered them by thirds and fourths, Andrea Solarino's guitar and Marco Tranchina's piano feature to a greater extent on these two tracks while in Irish Eyes, Alan Short changes from saxophone to flute to play a lovely ballad.


Listen to Irish Eyes:



More Than Ever is a very nice debut album from Marco Tranchina as leader of the Smät Five that has been far too long in the making, but like so many musicians, Marco has been frustrated by circumstances outside his control. The Smät Five are a band of very talented Italian musicians who deserve to be far better known and now that life is returning to normal, Marco's hopes of touring the album around the UK and Europe should be realised which will give the band much greater exposure. The quality of musicianship on the album is top notch while Marco Tranchina's compositions make for rewarding listening whether one can distinguish the music theory devices or not, and in common with much great art, the music is enjoyable on many levels.


Click here for details and samples of the album. Click here for Marco's website.

Marco Tranchina More Than Ever




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