If Not Ecstatic, We Refund

Yue Minjun

Mario Schiano Trio
If Not Ecstatic We Refund
CEDI : 1970

MS, alto and soprano sax; Bruno Tommaso, bass and piano (“Moonlight”); Franco Peccori, drums.

Who says you can’t judge an album by its title? We’d probably have a soft spot for this Grail of Italian Jazz even if the music wasn’t so stellar, but fortunately the ecstatic contents won’t have anyone ringing up the Better Business Bureau. We’re so sure you’ll love it, that we’re extending the title’s guarantee to all our faithful readers.

Mario Schiano was the godfather of Italian free jazz. He started in the ’50s to experiment with freer styles, co-founded Gruppo Romano Free Jazz in the ’60s, and was a member of the adventurous Instabile Orchestra (check out The Owner of the Riverbank with Cecil Taylor). Here we find Schiano in full flower at the dawn of the 1970s. His trio uncorks a brilliantly skewed demolition of that old chestnut “Moonlight in Vermont.” The clattering vibe of this track free-associatively reminds us of the Captain Beefheart song of the (y’almost) same title – which is meant as high praise all around. Schiano’s pithy version clocks under 2:30, so give it a few spins for maximum effect.

The title track showcases a completely different side of his talent. It’s an bravura 18-minute blowout of swells and ebbs that never loses the plot. You’ll be surprised how quickly the time flies as the band mixes it up, exploring lyrical nooks, finding moments of swing, careening into blitzes of pure skronk. No wonder this super-rare album was written up by Mats Gustafsson in Stop Smiling‘s jazz issue. He selected it as one of “Five LPs I’m Going To Steal From Your Collection.” We’re not sure if John Corbett still has his hands on this, but hopefully he’s considering it for a slot in the invaluable Unheard Music Series.

The clincher: The original LP features a hairy green tail. Really, now!

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