I feel heartily sorry for all those who missed the Actis Dato Quartet at the Odeon last night. A great time was had by all, and those enjoying themselves the most seemed to be the charismatic members of the Quartet themselves, who filled the room with an enormous, rich sound that belied their 'sparse' lineup of two reeds, bass and drums. Several times the band launched themselves physically into the audience to coax dancing, mock fear and tears of mirth from all corners of the Odeon. Not even the bar staff were spared. The mouthpiece conversations (arguments?) between Dato and Chris Mason-Battley
were a particular highlight...
This clowning could have easily been seen as pure gimickry if it wasn't immediately apparent that these four Italians are masters of their chosen art - Carlo Actis Dato himself has twice been named the best Baritone Saxophone player in the world by the Downbeat Magazine Readers' Poll (in 2001 and 2002). In addition, there a few names to conjure with in the list of Dato et al's previous collaborators - Steve Lacy, Cecil Taylor, Tony Oxley... Given the gravitas sometimes associated with the European Free Jazz scene, the overt humour throughout their two sets seemed almost subversive.
Carlo Actis Dato (Paul Toogood Photograpy)
One thing that is often sadly lacking in the New Zealand scene is Dato's brand of unselfconcious joy in the process making of music. As Dato tried in vain to "restart" his saxophone, kicking the accelator motorbike style, before miming an "oil change", you realised that here was a band for whom music is not just the production of sound - it is also theatre, surrealism, comedy, dance, yelling and simply, fun.
Able early evening support was provided by local combustible ensemble Thierry, who proved once again that space, texture and intelligence is possible within the framework of group improvisation.
Rarely is virtuosity allied with such overt enthusiasm for the communal ritual of making music. Dato and his bands have appeared at festivals all around the world - Japan, Finland, Italy, Argentina, England, Lithuania, France, the United States. Here they were prancing around our little Odeon in Mount Eden like they owned the place. And for one memorable Wednesday night they did. Wow.