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The virtues of guitarist's new CD are no accident

By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent, 11/14/2003

''It started almost as a tragedy,'' the dark-haired 40-year-old recalls, seated in a downstairs room in the Boylston Street headquarters of the Berklee College of Music's Ear Training department, where he teaches. ''I was supposed to be in the studio at 7 p.m., and I go to pick up my wife at 4, and somebody hits me with the car. They completely destroy my car. I had to be in the studio in three hours, and I was pulling the metal out of my wheels so that I could actually drive, you know? I got to the studio, oh, man, so messed up. It was going to be a disaster.''

The guitarist can laugh about it now, and does. The session turned out to be anything but a disaster. ''Openground'' came out in late September just as planned, and tonight Moltoni and his trio -- he's backed by fellow Berklee professors Paul Del Nero on bass and Bob Tamagni on drums -- will be playing selections from it at the Acton Jazz Cafe. Moltoni's music (he composed all nine tunes on the CD) is soothing without being treacly or trite, and reminiscent of the moody, ethereal virtuosity popularized by the German label ECM in the 1970s.

The European accent makes sense. Moltoni grew up in Turin, Italy, where his tastes evolved from rhythm and blues to jazz in his late teens. He recalls driving around in ''a really cheap car'' at age 18 with a recording of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie playing live together more or less permanently occupying his tape deck. He also liked John McLaughlin's guitar work. ''That guy was amazing,'' Moltoni says. ''Almost like, `Whoa, where have I been all my life? Listen to this guy!' So I got really curious about the whole thing. I thought, `Man, I want to play this stuff. Jazz? Yeah, I like jazz.' ''
He spent his early 20s playing around Italy -- ''starving mainly''-- and attending jazz seminars led by American artists such as guitarists John Abercrombie and Mick Goodrick. His parents weren't all that tickled by Moltoni's ambition of becoming a professional jazz musician, but that didn't prevent him from arriving at Berklee as a student in January 1989. He earned a degree in composition, played some dates around town while doing so, and by the time he graduated, his folks were more receptive.

''My dad came to me at the end of my degree and said, `Do you want to get a master's?' I said, `Yes!' '' He laughs. ''So I did a master's'' -- in jazz performance, at the New England Conservatory of Music.

It was at NEC that he met his bass player, Del Nero, and the two have been playing together steadily since. Del Nero, who recently helped onetime Ray Charles saxophonist Greg Abate resurrect their late 1970s band, Channel One, performed on Moltoni's 1996 CD, ''Directions,'' for the Italian label Pentaflowers Records. ''Openground'' is Tamagni's first recording with Moltoni, but the two men had met in the mid-1980s in Perugia, Italy, at the Umbria Jazz Festival.''Playing with people you know well,'' Moltoni says, ''makes the music better.''

It also helps, in Moltoni's case, to hire sidemen comfortable in a variety of styles. Del Nero's languidly funky bass line in ''Altered Fill'' holds that tune together as the catchiest song on the CD, and Tamagni, like Del Nero, switches easily over from that to, say, the Latin accents of a tune like ''Leaving Early.''

There's not a hint on the CD of Moltoni's discombobulating experience on the way to recording it. Maybe the accident even made his playing better.

''I was talking to Mick Goodrick about it,'' Moltoni says, ''and he told me another story about John Abercrombie and his band. They were going around, and they had this tremendous accident -- with the little bus that flips around several times down the hill. Mick was like, `Well, you never know, because that night the guys played, and it was one of the best gigs ever.' The energy was so great. And they wished they could actually record that.''

Moltoni's accident wasn't as harrowing as Abercrombie's, and his trio wasn't quite that inspired afterward. But Moltoni did get his post-accident session down on disc. Anyone who checks out ''Openground'' will likely be glad he did.

This story ran on page C13 of the Boston Globe on 11/14/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.




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