Aka Moon is a Brussels-based jazz trio led by composer and alto saxophonist Fabrizio Cassol with rhythm support by Michel Hatzigeorgiou on Fender jazz bass and Stéphane Galland on drums. They made their debut in 1992 and continue to distinguish themselves with adventurous approaches to both performance and repertoire. Their latest recording was released a little over a week ago by Outhere Music as part of their Instinct collection, created as a showcase for “the manifold musical facets” of Cassol.
The full title of the new recording is The Scarlatti Book: Sonata Inspiration. The “inspiration” comes from nine of the 555 keyboard sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti in the catalog compiled by Ralph Kirkpatrick in 1953. Since these are keyboard works, the recording also includes pianist Fabian Fiorini.
Kirkpatrick’s catalog is such an authoritative source that, like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Scarlatti’s music is often most accurately identified by it “K number.” Thus, the first thing one notices, even before starting to play this album, is that the tracks are identified on the back cover by “AKA numbers,” thus identifying both “source” and “destination” of each track. The second thing one notices, from the very beginning of the first track, is that this is not the “switched on” approach that Ward Swingle took by arranging the music of Johann Sebastian Bach for scat singers and then enhancing the results with a bit of swing. For each of the tracks, Cassol was inspired by a single sonata (and explicitly acknowledges it with the “AKA number”); but, for the most part, Scarlatti provides the point of departure. Nevertheless, that point of departure is made explicit on a few of the tracks with Fiorini playing portions of the “source text.” However, this does not always mean that he is “playing Scarlatti.” Like Cassol, Fiorini often extracts one or two “signature” motifs and then takes them in directions of his own choosing. This is most evident in the treatment of the K. 1 sonata in D minor (which also turns out to be an excellent platform for Galland’s drum work).
All this means that those who know their Scarlatti really well (how many of them are actually out there?) will probably take great pleasure in identifying all of the source passages, particularly the ones that have been the most fragmented. However, as a former student of mine once put it, that would be like taking all of the raisins out of a box of raisin bran. The real pleasure in this album comes from the inventive ways in which Cassol can unfold extended solo saxophone lines out of motifs originally conceived for keyboard. This is not a jazz combo having its way with Scarlatti. Rather, it is a jazz saxophonist working out a rich set of his own ideas “under the influence” of Scarlatti. Indeed, after listening to his album, one could easily hope for a “call and response” performance at which Fiorini would play one of the sonatas (or perhaps play one of his own improvisations on a sonata), after which Aka Moon would “respond” with a reflection on the listening they had just experienced.