Carlo Actis Dato
The Pied Piper of Italian Jazz
by Piotr Michalowski
European improvised music is becoming well known in this country. German, Swedish, British, and Dutch jazz artists have found different routes to original styles, having long ago abandoned the imitation of American models, and some of them tour here regularly. The Italians have not been coming that often, and their work is not as well known here, but a change is about to take place. A decade ago fifteen of the most interesting Italian improvisers came together to form the Italian Instabile Orchestra; they have toured widely and recorded some excellent CDs, bringing much recognition to the music of their country. The orchestra will be coming to the United States later in the year, but this month one of its individualistic members, saxophonist and bass clarinetist Carlo Actis Dato, is visiting on a solo tour.
Dato is a Piedmontese from the industrial city of Turin, but in his youth he lived in the south of Italy and was obviously much influenced by the life and folklore of that region. He first came on the scene in the 1970s and by 1984 had formed the quartet that he still plays with all over the world. He has appeared on more than seventy recordings and has worked with such luminaries as David Murray, Cecil Taylor, and Oliver Lake. While influenced by the instant improvisation and extended instrumental techniques of free jazz, he has always been attracted to melody and form, often invoking southern Italian folk tunes and just about everything else one can think of. He draws on funk, Caribbean, Mediterranean, and Japanese traditions with equal ease, but above all his music is permeated by an absurdist comic irreverence that allows him to communicate with a wider audience without in any way compromising the seriousness of his art.
His clowning cannot hide the fact that Dato is a virtuoso performer, a master of traditional as well as extended techniques on all his instruments. He uses circular breathing with
ease, so that he can maintain long passages without any breaks, and his broad range of timbral colors provides variety during his solo concerts. Not many musicians can play the bass clarinet and baritone saxophone with such power and clarity.
Dato plays with many different bands, but he also roams the world alone, lugging his three horns and performing in every possible place, from concert halls to street corners and primary schools. His broad, singing tone, his love of simple riffs and melodies, and his zany humor are simply irresistible, as is evidenced by his latest solo CD, The Moonwalker, which contains pieces recorded in front of children in Japan, on street corners in Nepal, and in Morocco, Mali, and Bali. On Thursday, February 7, Dato performs in the more traditional confines of the Kerrytown Concert House.
[Originally published in February, 2002.]