On This New Jazz Record, Kansas City And Italy Make Beautiful Music Together

Jan 17, 2017

The Dino Massa Kansas City Quintet
Echoes of Europe (Artists Recording Collective)

Echoes of Europe, a collaboration between the Italian pianist Dino Masso and jazz musicians based in the Kansas City area, is the result of a chance encounter in Naples in 1990.

The Naples-based Massa met saxophonist Chris Burnett when the latter visited a jam session while stationed in Italy as a member of the NATO Big Band. After retiring from the United States military and returning to his native Kansas, Burnett reconnected with Massa on social media a few years ago.

Their rekindled friendship led to Massa’s initial trip to the Kansas City area in 2015. The men verified their musical chemistry performing at the Blue Room and Take Five Coffee+Bar, and last year, Massa returned to record Echoes of Europe.

It's an exceptionally graceful album that imbues mainstream jazz with the elegant sheen of classical chamber music.

Highly refined but never fastidious, the album’s careful arrangements seem designed to augment thoughtful reflection, and the core band, which also includes guitarist Charles Gatschet, bassist Andrew Stinson and drummer Clarence Smith, maintains a consistently contemplative mood.

Massa is a post-bop pianist who’s clearly familiar with the work of seminal jazz pianists like Bud Powell and Art Tatum. Although his fluid improvisation on the title track is masterful, Massa emphasizes a different aspect of his talent throughout. His opening statement on “Paris” indicates that he’s just as conversant in the language of European classical composers like Frédéric Chopin as he is with that of contemporary American jazz masters.

“Remembering” and “Tarantella,” two of five Massa compositions on the seven-track album, possess unusually intricate but entirely hypnotic melodies. The recondite patterns suit the thoughtful sensibility of Burnett, whose unhurried solos and tart tone on compositions like “Alone” enhance the album’s serene disposition.

Gatschet’s contributions are just as crucial. One of the most unfairly underappreciated members of Kansas City’s jazz scene, Gatschet provides assured sophistication.

Partly because the principle participants are mature musicians who aren’t compelled to demonstrate their prodigious talents, almost every solo is subservient to the project’s meditative tone. A relatively brash solo by guest trumpeter Stan Kessler on “Remembering” — a lively statement that reflects his impish personality — is one of the few moments that snaps the record's wistful reverie.

Hearing this group of relatively unheralded locals playing with a journeyman Italian pianist is almost as striking as realizing how easy it would be to mistake the CD booklet's photographs of Kansas City landmarks (including Liberty Memorial and the Country Club Plaza) for scenes of Massa’s Italy. Echoes of Europe is a lovely union of the music associated with both locales.

Bill Brownlee’s writing appears weekly in The Kansas City Star and Ink magazine. He blogs about Kansas City’s jazz scene at Plastic Sax.