Let's face it, even the tuba gets to dot the "I" when the Ohio State marching band performs at halftime. With the gradual demise of the more traditional big band sound of Benny Goodman, one can think of but a handful of true virtuoso talent that use the clarinet as their main musical weapon of choice. Since the 1980's Eddie Daniels, Richard Stoltzman and Paquito D'Rivera are for the most part the standard by which other players are measured. Some may wish to toss in the name Gilad Atzmon but I am of the opinion it is inherently unfair to compare professionals with amateurs.
When a release is difficult to pin down with a genre of specificity then I know that I am dealing with not only an artist in every possible sense of the word but music with muscle as well. The Italian virtuoso Luca Luciano and his stellar release "Partenope" are names you can toss into the mix with the masters I previously mentioned. Solo work of any kind can be the equivalent of tap dancing in a musical minefield as there is no supporting cast to provide the necessary sonic cover fire should things go horribly wrong. Luciano's brilliant technical work combined with a robust artistic genius sidesteps these musical landmines with flair and precision that other players can work an entire career for and still fall short.
Luca Luciano is a legitimate musical triple threat as performer, composer and educator. This Italian clarinetist and composer now resides in London and continues to reinforce his reputation overseas as an instrumental virtuoso while not gaining near the recognition deserved here in the United States. "Partenope" is essentially what the American audience would consider an EP but keeping in mind quality over quantity shoots this release to the top of the stack when it comes to new literature for the clarinet while moving seamlessly in an around the classical and jazz genres. While some would think a shortened release would be a walk in the park in terms of putting out a finished product, Luciano has worked on this contemporary masterpiece for the clarinet starting in 2007. Luciano works partially from scored music and partially from an improvisational base that encompasses not only the technical genius rarely seen or heard with the instrument but from a harmonious artistic lyrical p.o.v. combining Western European, Afro-America and folk music from Southern Italy into a sub genre all his own. As a former clarinetist turned saxophonist, I shun most labels if possible. Luciano dwells in an artistic zone which is a musical no mans land somewhere between neo-classical and post modern jazz. While musical frames of reference can often be dangerous and inherently unfair, if Jimi Hendrix played clarinet it may possibly have sounded similar to "Partenope."
A variety of techniques that would lose the passive listener are applied but an advanced degree is not required to appreciate the jaw dropping performance contained on this shiny piece of sonic gold. For the technical geeks of which I consider myself one, the instrument endorsed by Luciano is a full Boehm clarinet with a low Eb and with extra keys and rings the magic is created through a series of short pieces where such advanced techniques including multi-phonics and micro-tones are used in an amazing display of artistic expression. "Partenope" concludes with "Jazz Impromptu" which is a free jazz oriented improvisational homage to the legendary Charlie Parker.
What is equally amazing about the release is from a purely compositional standpoint, literature (good literature) for solo clarinet remains difficult at best to find. The addition of this particular work is of extreme significance for this reason alone. A portion of the inspiration comes from the famous quote from Gustav Mahler's, "A symphony must be like the world, it must embrace everything." This quote may be the best review and indication of what is ahead for the listener.
Officially release in 2011, "Partenope" is just now available on CD Baby and the usual on line suspects including Amazon, iTunes and CD Universe.
Tracks: Rondo' Contemporaneo; Sequenza #1; Fragment #4; Sequenza #2 in "A" minor; Fragment #5; Homage to Charles "Bird" Parker: Jazz Impromptu.
Luca Luciano - Solo Clarinet.