Massimiliano Castellani

Giorgio Conta







Round midnight. I write at night, turn down the music and listen to a painting by Giorgio Conta. It’s not mad- ness, it’s not a midsummer dream. Ragtime... “Under the stars of jazz, but how much night has passed... Marisa, wake me up, hug me, it’s been such a strong dream,” Pao- lo Conte sings in Under the stars of Jazz. It was a dream for me too, discovering that jazzed universe of Conta’s art. It was like when I went to the Umbria Jazz Festi- val – in Perugia – and for the first time I saw a concert of Brad Mehldau’s mellow piano. I have deep Umbrian roots and I can guarantee that, in my native land, jazz notes are branches of an oak that flutter in the wind of summer from the hill of Rocca Paolina, stretching out to touch the – winter – façade of the Orvieto Cathedral. Then, they climb up the silver olive tree groves that frame Assisi and Spoleto and dive into the fresh water of the Trasimeno Lake. These are places that Giorgio knows well, because the rhythm that he gives to his col- ours is fed by a spiritual bebop. It is also a Saint Francis’ approach that brought him on the paths of jazz players, those diviners with velvet dreams. Hence, my invitation to the wanderers that bump into his art, is: stop in front of these works, glue your ear to the drawing for a min- ute. And listen. What a groove... It is the rhythm of life, the crazy blood of those musicians that travel through the night, from Manhattan to Cinisello Balsamo. The last stop of Milan suburbs, here a few years ago with Giorgio and our close friend Luigi Marsiglia, we arranged a ‘Trio’. The only one of us that could actually play an instru- ment was Conta, but we went with him down a metro- politan path, getting – as in a dream state – on the tram of desire. A one-way ticket from Villa Ghirlanda to New Orleans. During that trip, it was like being involved in recording an album. Conta’s jazz/art is alive with the im- provisation of this artist, who is able to create Blue Note- like atmospheres in his studio in Monclassico. A concert wooden statues with a cool soul, just come out of the prowess of this master carver of the Trentino school. So, under goblets of stars, with Luigi and Giorgio, we looked at each other’s faces for a second and we really felt like a ‘Trio’, the origin of art too, that merges with the music of the world, with a rhythm that was no longer the rhythm of real life, but the rhythm of Jazz.

A session that asks for the road, the sand, the sea. It is a journey, a flight gliding over white cliffs and endless ho- rizons, filling the saxophone case – maybe Massimo Ur- bani’s crazy and uneven saxophone – with love for life. As soon as the lights fade, it becomes an enchanted path, to follow the heart-breaking solo piano of Luca Flores or the playful-samba one of Stefano Bollani. Portrait. Ebb and flow, up and down our land, which encompasses all the suburbs: always struggling not to become dry or me- chanical. In these works, you’ll find the swing rage of the drummer that fights with the double bass player, while an anarchical guitar steals the show. Solo by Miles Davis. “Hey man!” Because you can either stay with the band or leave it to join the little orchestra, but this cross section of sounds that Giorgio Conta delivers to us is a lost gift: the thirst, the hunger, the inalienable sense of freedom of the man. The same freedom that has brought jazz music into our lives over the last century. Whether it is dirty or acid, once it runs through your veins, it makes something which is becoming utopia down the streets of our cities possible: peacefully sharing the same uni- verse. Jazz fusion: the art of meeting the other. Because, “in jazz, someone fifteen can be on the bandstand next to an eighty-year-old,” wise Wynton Marsalis reminds. These paintings that will be ‘playing’ for you tonight and every night ask for your silence and the half-light of well-lit senses. They expect you to pay rightful atten- tion. You will listen to I should care again, performed by a moving Chet Baker hugging his trumpet, his only real friend, loyal until the end. Conta’s colours are sober, they do not make you feel dizzy, but so does the sound that comes from his performance. It is absinth. It is an “absence stronger than presence”.

His jazz players are the last enchanters of this world that no longer moves at the pace of feelings, the heart has stopped and cannot resume beating. It’s tired. Why? Because we need more jazz in the empty glass of the soul. Then, here they come, his animated characters, his dammed artists pouring a nice glass of Teroldego, a ‘jazz tonic’, for us, with their heavenly instruments, though they may be rusted by the rain or covered in the dust of an attic full of lost memories of a far-away summer. “Summer. You are as hot as the kiss I’ve lost...,” Bruno Martino whispers from the clouds. Melodies, attempts of Italian blacks, of blacks by chance. The authentic one is Conta’s ‘man in black’. A big man that never loses him- self and his existential thread only when on stage. He melts under his hat, drips poetry with his sweaty joy. Hot from the spotlights, sun that burns the hands of an applauding, paying audience, and there he is, behind his glasses, mirroring a light never seen before. Now, that light comes to us, to remind that everything can still happen... Apart from the golden notes of In a sentimen- tal mood by Coltrane & Ellington turning into nothing more than music to the ears of the poor and old animals of this earth. Those are the notes of a regained time. Giorgio Conta rediscovered the great truth. “In jazz, time is your (his) friend.”