In 1978, Italian percussionist Andrea Centazzo toured the United States with a cutting-edge sextet, and then recorded it live for New York City radio. This is the first complete release of that recording session, adding important tracks to two earlier releases. A quick look at the personnel is telling: John Zorn on reeds; Toshinori Kondo on trumpet; Tom Cora on cello; Eugene Chadbourne on guitars; the woefully underappreciated Polly Bradfield on violin; and, of course, Centazzo leading on percussion. You know sparks will fly anytime you get the caliber of these players together in one place. To little surprise, the results are fresh and satisfying, with "First Environments for Sextet" and "Second Environment for Sextet," which together fill up most of the recording time, serving as stunning vehicles for improvisation. "First Environment for Sextet," clearly subject to Centazzo's magic wand, thrusts itself as an exemplar of radical free improvisation, with lots of tiny sounds that, as a whole, weather the years well, sounding fresh and exciting when reissued in 2006, nearly three decades after the recording was made. John Zorn is particularly impressive for his tasteful honks and raw and open pointillism, while Kondo and Chadbourne let loose in highly individualistic ways. "Second Environment for Sextet" is equally persuasive: spread out, expansive, extreme, diverse, and, above all, loaded with free improvisation; once again, Centazzo's hand is clearly felt. At times it sounds like carnival music filtered through the ears of a drunken sailor. At others it is weird, and occasionally even silly. But the overall effect impresses, as Centazzo opens up and Chadbourne spits it out with his signature stuttering plunges that mark the best of his playing. Kondo (it takes a minute or two to figure out what is making the noises he squeezes from his horn) sounds splendidly like a wild banshee, flying all over the map, sometimes with extended turgidity, and Zorn clearly has a good time with his bird calls, jabbing, jutting, flitting, and commenting with an unrelenting intensity. While the two lengthy sextet numbers comprise most of the album, the other pieces are all worth hearing. This highly productive session ranks among Centazzo's best, both for his extraordinary work as a percussionist and for the group sounds, which considering the high quality of the 12-CD box set of which this is a part, says a lot.
-AllMusic Review by Steve Loewy