April 20, 2024

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CD review: Ada Rovatti – The Hidden World Of Piloo – 2024: Video, CD cover

Saxophonist and composer Ada Rovatti spent her youth attending Berklee and playing with big bands in Italy (where she was born). Later, she met her husband, accomplished trumpeter Randy Brecker, moved to New York and released her first two albums as a leader in 2003.

Italy-born, Long Island, New York-based saxophonist/arranger Ada Rovatti delivers a captivating collection of original songs with wide-ranging thematic surprises around every corner. Her seventh album as a leader, The Hidden World of Piloo features six improvisationally rich instrumentals that include blues grooves, samba vibes, straight-up lyricism, melancholic balladry and a comedic finale. Two songs include strings; another features the dobro, a country instrument unlikely to be in a jazz song.

Her seventh album, The Hidden World of Piloo, continues her streak of fun, original and sometimes funky tunes. A chill atmosphere surrounds the release, which provides smooth and cool jazz for listeners wanting melody-forward music that can also easily function as low-key background ambiance.

Featuring talented vocalists like Niki Haris and Kurt Elling, among others, the album has a depth of sound that keeps the grooves going without getting stale. “Painchiller,” the third track, adds guitar to the mix. The energy is restrained but lively, and the beat helps guide the transitions from group playing to soloing. It has a slightly grungy feel to it, but Rovatti guides us to interesting places. It’s a laidback piece that makes itself known not by any outrageous noises or fragments of flair but by its consistent and even-keeled tone. It shares some similarities with a few of Rovatti’s songs from her 2014 release, Disguise.

“Life Must Go On” also stands out. Funk-tinged with confident vocals by German singer Alma Naidu, it contains traces of blues and Americana that lend it an unusual texture and give it a distinct allure — and that’s before the tangy, twangy guitar solo halfway through. The lyrics are charged with meaning, too: “waters are rising,” “trees are burning,”no time to wait and see.” Here and elsewhere, Rovatti showcases her ability to write for singers. The play and exchange between singer and instruments can be difficult. How do you balance them, give each room to shine without making one a mere adjunct of the other? Well, Rovatti knows, and she doesn’t hinder the composition by being overly strict. There is a refreshing looseness to the track.

The album is dedicated to her father, who passed away in 2021 shortly before she finished recording it. “Piloo” was his nickname for her, so perhaps Rovatti is exploring her past and background and possibly her inner musical workings as well. Piloo certainly exhibits her passion and love for music. Halfway through we get “Simba’s Samba,” a fun, upbeat and breezy mélange of tropical flavors. It mimics and pays homage to many Latin American styles without seeming cheesy or affected. The saxophone (as well as the trumpet, played by Brecker) dances within and around the melody; one can easily image a couple swaying together in a summer sunset in Buenos Aires. It has a sophisticated sound, without sacrificing playfulness. The whistles and bird noises (a la the works of Martin Denny or Marcos Valle) give a taste of humor and further solidify the air of homage.

Rovatti not only wrote the tunes but the lyrics as well, proving she isn’t afraid to grow as an artist. The Hidden World of Piloo is a strong release. There are many moments of fun as well as those of beauty and sorrow. For this reviewer, it’s a little long. Though there are no weak or boring tracks, one wonders if the length of a few could have been shaved down slightly. Yet, overall, Rovatti’s music doesn’t outstay its welcome. “Red August” and “Naked King” both seem less energetic, though they complement another nicely. But, in that regard, is it always a good thing to have multiple compositions with similar tones right next to each other? There are enough differences as these pieces progress to make the question moot, but when the pace is flat, unchanging, the listener can occasionally be drawn away. But all things considered, Rovatti’s latest has plenty to offer. And it’s certainly a shift (and an improvement) from her Celtic-influenced album Green Factor (2009). As a bandleader and composer, Rovatti continues to deliver heartfelt, exciting jazz that exhibits her many talents.

Four Rovatti compositions showcase top-tier vocalists, including jazz-poll champion Kurt Elling, the Netherlands jazz singer Fay Claassen, German pop/jazz star Alma Naidu and fired-up R&B singer Niki Haris (the daughter of jazz great Gene Harris) who once served as a Madonna backing vocalist. They each follow Rovatti’s “impossibly ranged melodies” and settle marvelously into her phrasing.

“This album is clearly not a project where band members solo twenty choruses of the blues,” says Rovatti, who is center stage on tenor, alto, soprano and baritone saxophones and flute. “I want to be recognized as a singer/songwriter, saxophonist and arranger. This album shows a different side of me.” In essence, creating space for a round of solos isn’t her intent. She wants to focus on the interplay among her band members—including her husband Randy Brecker on trumpet and flugelhorn, organist Simon Oslender, bassist Claus Fischer, drummer Tim Dudek, percussionist Café Da Silva—and other guests.

Rovatti’s sophisticated songs are special. They dive deep into emotional memory. But some throw punches at the causes of the country’s social unrest and injustice.

Case in point: the funk-spiced, dobro-driven “Life Must Go On,” with a harmony arrangement by Naidu sung with a sense of doom in the midst of being “in pure hate and in greed’s name.” Rovatti says, “We’re messing around with too much. There is a higher power that is seeing all these mental glitches of people who want everything, who want power, and it never ends.” Then there’s also “The Naked King,” with a sweet, gentle groove and juicy bass solo that references to the era of the former president.

The Hidden World of Piloo opens with the spirited, percussive, harmonic beauty “Make Up Girl,” dedicated to her teenage daughter who was experimenting with wearing makeup. “I had lyrics, but decided to turn it into an instrumental,” Rovatti says. “There’s a counterpoint for two instruments, which made it perfect for Randy and me to play off each other.”

On her favorite track of the album sung with fire by Claassen, Rovatti embellishes “Hey You (Scintilla of Sonder)” with strings and horns. Rovatti sparks with the intense notion of sonder that even random people passing on the street have their own layers of hidden struggles and complications. She says that’s a fascination and mystery for her. “It’s a deep subject when you realize that,” she says.

Rovatti references the grunge pop life in the ‘90s for the laid-back “Painchiller” featuring Brecker’s charged trumpeting and an injection of pain relief from her guitar friend Tom Guarna. She then turns a corner into jazz party time with the swing and New Orleans blues tune “Grooveland” that she says often ends the set with her band and her outings with Brecker.

“Italians share the Latin groove,” says Rovatti when asked why she changed gears again for the delicious “Simba Samba.” “Naturally I’m attracted to the mood, the groove of Brazilian music. In all my recordings there’s always a Latin feel.”

Rovatti dedicates The Hidden World of Piloo to her father who passed away in 2021 shortly before the recording was completed. In the liner notes, she writes, “A special thanks to my Dad who inspired most of this project and directed from above some of those life lucky oddities.” She also notes that his nickname for her when she was a child was Piloo which is not only in the album name but also is the name of her record label.

Haris sings Rovatti’s moving ballad with strings “Take It Home” in his honor. “I told her the story of the tune, and Niki came back with the perfect take,” she says. “She’s a pro. I wanted someone with a gospel background and a deep voice. I love her phrasing, and her texture reminds me in places of Tina Turner and in other places Aretha.”

Rovatti also mourns her father’s death with the lightly rhythmic “Red August,” the last tune she wrote before he died. It’s melancholic and sad. “It was a painful time,” she says. “I was just on the edge of hanging in there. Red is the color of love and passion.”

The entertaining last song of the album is arguably one of its best. “Done Deal” is a bluesy fantasy of a conversation between Elling and Haris. It’s a hilarious interaction between a husband and wife that includes a trip to heaven. “My original idea was to deal with the struggles of a couple,” Rovatti says. “But I couldn’t talk about cheating and things. I haven’t dated since my twenties, so I don’t remember suffering for love. I’m a happy camper with Randy. So, instead, I thought of comedy with Kurt and Niki improvising the lines.”

The Hidden World of Piloo features Rovatti exercising her creative expertise to its fullest. She wrote all the lyrics, composed and arranged the music, created the packaging that includes a photo shoot with her own light setup and makeup and hair style. “I like to control all the aspects of the work,” she says. “I’m very picky. My mother taught me to take care of myself and not let anyone interfere. It was during the pandemic, so I took up sewing and even designed all the clothes I’m wearing for the cover and album notes.”

I like the fact that I present myself to the audience in a different format. Piloo is my nickname given to me by my father. (It was the name of a mischievous little cat in a book I loved to read as a child and that nicknamed stayed with me all these years … and called my record label Piloo Records). Like many artists out there, the pandemic unleashed an amazing array of emotions and creativity definitely fed on those. My project was “a baby” of the pandemic. It exposed a more hidden and vulnerable part of me, and I decided to push my boundaries and explore whatever talent or art which was out of my comfort zone and see where it would take me. It is not the classical jazz recording where the improvisation is the focal point, but the main idea is showcasing other parts of my persona. From playing other saxes and flute, to arranging for strings, to writing lyrics and even controlling all  parts of the production, editing, LP/CD design, photoshoot, make up and even the clothes I’m wearing on the cover is my design and my own sewing. I’m working daily on my music, from spending time with my instrument and keeping the writing going to sewing, cooking, arts and crafts to being a mother and wife and trying to be a decent human being…there is never a dull moment! Originally the production was meant to be a collaboration between my label and a German label, and the great producer Joachim Becker in helping to put this amazing rhythm section together.  (Simon Oslender on Piano and Organ, Claus Fischer on Bass and Tim Dudek on drums- all spectacular musicians and humans). I knew all of them and played previously with them and I loved their musicianship, so it was a treat for me.). We decided to record the rhythm section in Bonn (Germany), and we added the strings and the guests later and I think that definitely turned the whole thing into a global production. Eventually with issues  regarding the release date  and general decision making etc. I decided that probably it was better to own  the project completely, so I bought out the other entity so I could be the solely owner and it worked out great, but I have been so thankful to have used that specific rhythm section, – an interview with as said Ada Rovatti.

We recommend that you definitely buy this CD, also from us, directly from here and enjoy it.

1 Make Up Girl 07:07
2 Hey You (Scintilla of Sonder) 06:10
3 Painchiller 08:28
4 Life Must Go On 06:25
5 Grooveland 06:03
6 Take It Home 05:23
7 Simba’s Samba 05:29
8 Red August 07:08
9 The Naked King 06:57
10 Done Deal 07:45

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