Rita Marcotulli Quartet

Rita  Marcotulli  keyb/p
Andy Sheppard sax
Michel Benita b
Israel Varela  dr/voc


Rita Marcotulli

At the age of five she fell in love with the piano, which she lately went on studying at Santa Cecilia Conservatory in Rome. Rita Marcotulli, an elegant pianist gifted with a melodic timbre and a very exclusive instrumental voice, approached Brasilian music to come definitively to jazz aesthetics at the age of twenty.
In the early 80s she appeared on the fervent Roman scene, where in a few selected clubs those who would become the leading artists of the Italian Jazz were starting their career. In those years one could easily see young Italian talents performing next to famous foreign musicians touring through Italy.

It so happaned that Rita would play with well known musicians such as, among the others, Chet Baker, Steve Grossman, Peter Erskine, Joe Henderson, Joe Lovano, Charlie Mariano, Tony Oxley, Michel Portal, Richard Galliano, Enrico Rava, Michel Benita, Aldo Romano, Kenny Wheeler, Bob Moses and Andy Sheppard. In 1968 she set off for Sweden, an experience that lasted six years and that was for two reasons a keystone in her musical evolution as a pianist and a composer.
From a stylistic point of view, the searching for the melody accounting and the love for an evocative rather than hypertechnical music, deeply marked her career. As for her fame and experiences, in 1987 in the prestigious referendum held by specialised critics for the magazine “Musica Jazz” she was elected “Miglior nuovo talento italiano” and the next year she was summoned by Billy Cobham to be part of his formations.


In the same years she went on working and specializing in Sweden, performing with Palle Danielsson, Anders Jormin and Nils Petter Molvær. In the mid 90s, after returning to Italy, she started alternating her own jazz projects, such as her professional relationship with the singer Maria Pia De Vito, with collaborations in the pop music world, particularly in Pino Daniele’s band and even performing with Pat Metheny.
Author of a rich and important discography- the latest issues of which are represented by the recording of the duo with Sheppard, soon on release, and by the solo piano work called “The Light Side Of The Moon”, that will be released this coming spring- she’s also leader of several other projects: Koinè, usually a quartet with Andy Sheppard at the saxophones, Anders Jormin or Palle Danielsson at the double bass and Philippe Garcia at the drums, with special guests such as Lena Willemark, Carlo Rizzo, Gianmaria Testa, Arto Tuncboyaciyan;

 The Woman Next Door, that is to say her homage to Truffaut, which includes Javier Girotto, Pietro Ciancaglini at the double bass, Roberto Gatto at the drums, Aurora Barbatella at the celtic harp and three diatonic organs; the unfogettable duo with the singer Maria Pia De Vito; she’s also leader of some trios, one of which with Furio Di Castri and Patrice Heral, and another with Palle Danielsson and Peter Erskine; finally the quartet with Javier Girotto, Gianluca Renzi at the double bass and Roberto Dani at the drums.

 Andy Sheppard 

An ECM recording artist, bandleader and composer, Andy Sheppard is one of Europe’s leading saxophonists and one of a very few British musicians to have made a significant impact on the international jazz scene, playing and writing for settings from solo to big band and chamber orchestra. Sheppard has composed over 350 works that incorporate a strong and characteristic sense of lyricism alongside a very personal use of rhythms from Asia, Africa and South America.
Sheppard took up the saxophone at 19, highly motivated after encountering the music of John Coltrane, and three weeks after getting his first instrument was playing in public with the Bristol-based quartet Sphere. After a period in Paris where he worked with groups including performance art band Urban Sax, he returned to the UK in the mid-80’s recording the album “Andy Sheppard” for Antilles/Island, with Steve Swallow as producer, the beginning of a long musical association that continues to this day. Since then Sheppard has recorded for labels including Blue Note, Verve, Label Bleu and Provocateur.
Sheppard has been invited to compose for large and small ensembles in the areas of jazz and contemporary classical music. His big band writing includes work with the renowned UMO Orchestra (Finland), the Bergen Big Band (Norway) – initially for a joint commission from Cheltenham and Vossa Festivals – Voice of the North and Jambone (UK). Most recently in 2012, Sheppard was commissioned to write a new Big Band Suite for the Bergen Big Band, this brand new work entitled Bump 5250 was performed during the prestigious NattJazz Festival (Norway) in 2013. He wrote music for a collaboration with the classical saxophonist John Harle, and composed View from the Pyramids, a concerto for saxophone and piano for the Bournemouth Sinfonietta, which premiered at the 1998 Salisbury Festival with Joanna MacGregor as piano soloist. Other significant commissions include a solo performance piece for saxophone and electronics from the Maison de la Culture in Amiens which subsequently turned into his Nocturnal Tourist CD; Nothing moved but the wind – a work for the Kintamarni Saxophone Quartet; Strange Episode – a piece for tape oboe and percussion for New Noise; the multi-disciplinary Cityscapes – a collaboration with Joanna McGregor et al for the City of London Festival; Glossolalia – a choral work with saxophone, guitar and percussion soloists commissioned by Bigger Sky and the Norfolk & Norwich Festival with premiere in Norwich Cathedral and new big band and vocal work for the northern youth big band Jambone with youth choir, which premiered at the Gateshead International festival in 2012. Curiously, Sheppard has been commissioned to write music to commemorate two feats of UK engineering.
The first was a collaboration with renowned Northumbrian piper Kathryn Tickell to celebrate the opening of the
Gateshead Millennium Bridge. This landmark commission resulted in Music for a New Crossing, written for the Northen Sinfonia, pipes and saxophones, with premiere played live on the spectacular setting of the bridge itself.  The second saw Andy commissioned by Brunel 200 to write a piece to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the engineer of the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol. For this work, entitled The Living Bridge, Andy composed a fanfare using prepared electronics incorporating the sounds of the bridge and utilizing the talents of 200 local saxophonists in homage to his early work subsequently formed the basis of Saxophone Massive – a series of large-scale celebratory performances performed in the UK and abroad by saxophone choirs made up of players of all ages and abilities that can be tailored to suit indoor or outdoor performance venues. Saxophone Massive has played all over Europe and as part of the BT River of Music, the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad programme supported by the National Lottery and Paul Hamlyn Foundation, in July 2012 there was a special version of saxophone Massive at Somerset House in London. The Man Who Had All the Luck which ran at the Young Vic; dance (his trio Inclassificable devised the music for the award winning dance piece Modern Living, choreographed by Jonathan Lunn); radio and TV. His TV credits include original music commissioned by BBC’s Omnibus for Ice dances Torvill and Dean; the Oscar nominated Channel 4 film, Syrup directed by Paul Unwin; a documentary series about Peter Sellers.

Sheppard has been described as a serial collaborator, playing recording and developing new music with artists as varied as Brazilian percussionist Nana Vasconcelos, Indian violinist L.Shankar, English folk musician Kathryn Tickell, contemporary classical composer-performers John Harle and Joanna MacGregor, singer songwriter John Martyn, and a myriad of leading jazz figures, including the rare hat-trick of three of the seminal composers in contemporary Jazz – Carla Bley, George Russell and the late Gil Evans.
The first album for ECM with his own project Movements in Colour recorded in 2008 draws upon established and more recent relationships. The saxophonist plays regularly in duos with jazz guitarist John Parricelli and tabla player Kuljit Bhamra, and both are also members of his quartet in Dancing Man & Woman. It was while touring as a guest soloist with Ketil Bjørnstad’s band that Sheppard eventually got to play with Eivind Aarset – “the perfect choice for the sound world that I was after.” UK tours with Bjørnstad also brought Sheppard and Arild Andersen together, and while writing the music for Movements in Colour album, Sheppard reports that he was “hearing melodies on acoustic bass and knew that Arild’s sound and lyricism would make them sing as well as provide essential energy.”

Sheppard’s current performing priority  is Andy Sheppard Quartet/Surrounded by Sea, his third ECM album is a strongly atmospheric recording.
Extending the range of his widely-praised Trio Libero (ECM)  project in 2012 with Michel Benita and Seb Rochford, Andy Sheppard adds Eivind Aarset (who made significant contributions to 2008’s Movements In Colour) to the band. With Aarset’s ambient drones and electronic textures as a backdrop, Sheppard and co seem to have even more space to explore. The music embraced includes new compositions, open improvisations, an Elvis Costello tune, and the Gaelic traditional ballad “Aoidh, Na Dean Cadal Idir”.


Michel Benita (born 1954 in Algiers, Algeria) On the European jazz scene, Michel Benita is neither the most vehement nor the most intrusive double bass player around. Some speak of honesty in his consideration for others. His path, attachments, partners reveal a musician of commitment and fidelity, curiosity and enthusiasm. Living in Paris in the early 1980s, he did everything he could to catch up, and he multiplied his experiences and dragged his instrument around to all those who called on his services. The names of the jazzmen with whom he played in those early years would compile a Who’s Who of jazzmen who played in France, where expatriate American legends (Lee Konitz, Archie Shepp…) played side by side with sure European values (Daniel Humair, Bobo Stenson, Enrico Pieranunzi…), and where his future friends of always (Peter Erskine, Aldo Romano, Nguyên Lê…) played in one-night stands with musicians just passing through.

A tough school but a good one, traveling from club to club and on the road, a school that freed Michel’s fingers from the constraints of technique and earned him the reputation of one of the most promising bass players around. So he was naturally asked to play in the first Orchestre National de Jazz which, under the direction of François Jeanneau, brought together the cream of a new generation of French musicians in 1986.

Other friendships dating back to this time have never stopped producing beautiful music: the Italian pianist Rita Marcotulli, whom Michel met in 1987 and whom he asked to participate in his first quartet alongside Dewey Redman, a little known giant and long time companion of Ornette Coleman (two albums for Label Bleu); Aldo Romano, the drummer, with whom he has worked in privileged tandem since 1995, including in the group Palatino with Paolo Fresu and Glenn Ferris, which is certainly not the least interesting of his encounters (three records so far)…
Marc Ducret, first as part of a trio revealing the guitarist’s talent, and then as part of Seven Songs From The Sixties, a mythical “tentet” ; the
drummer Peter Erskine, with whom he formed the ELB trio along with Nguyen Lê, who had just before invited Michel to help him tell his Tales From Vietnam (ACT).
To whatever combo he plays in, Michel Benita brings a rich, sure and melodious sonority, which is as much indebted to Scott LaFaro for its finesse as to Charlie Haden for its virtues of simplicity, without forgetting the steadiness of a Dave Holland who pairs up with the most complex drummers around, and the expressive cantabile of Nordic bass players such as Arild Andersen and Palle Danielsson.
In 2001, he joins Erik Truffaz’s Ladyland combo (Mantis, Blue Note). Most recently, forming a new trio with sax player Gaël Horellou and drummer Philippe Garcia, two younger musicians (Cosmik Connection), he finds the time to write the music for several documentaries. Michel now has his ears attuned to experimentation and cross disciplines, which he has explored since 1996 as the beloved composer of Hilton McConnico, decorator, photographer, designer, and also scenographer of Hermès, for whom he has already composed the music for 5 exhibitions or fashion shows in France and Japan. As Michel commences his fifth decade, his career has taken another decisive turn with his new project, Drastic, with a new album, which makes him shiver with excitement in the act of creation and in reaching new audiences.

In 2010, the album ‘Ethics’, brings a new dimension to his music, with the use of the japanese koto, beautifully played by Mieko Miyazaki, a very eclectic and charismatic musician from Tokyo. Matthieu Michel, from Switzerland, plays his dreamy lines on trumpet and Philippe Garcia, his pal from the Truffaz years is on the drums and electronics. Eivind Aarset, from Norway, on guitar and laptop, adds a very special ambient touch to the ten compositions Michel wrote for this brand new project.
In 2012, two major albums. First a live double CD by Palatino (Romano, Ferris, Fresu, Benita), a collective band reunited for a one shot concert in Grenoble’s MC2 (Naïve). Then his first recording produced by Manfred Eicher on ECM, with Trio Libero, formed by english saxophonist Andy Sheppard with Seb Rochford on drums.
During the years 2013-2014, he’s touring with accordion player Vincent Peirani and pianist Michaël Wollny (”Thrill Box”, ACT). Then records a new album for ECM with Andy Sheppard, as part of his new quartet, featuring Eivind Aarset and Sebastian Rochford.

2015 : First album with the Ethics Band on ECM. The acute sound-pictures of River Silver were realized in the responsive acoustics of the Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI, Lugano in April 2015, with Manfred Eicher producing. The album is Benita’s third ECM appearance, following two discs with Andy Sheppard: Trio Libero and Surrounded By Sea. All three albums have been Lugano recordings, the studio’s recital room ambience encouraging detailed interaction.


ISRAEL VARELA drums / vocals

“Inside the music of drummer-composer-vocalist Israel Varela is a rare mix among Jazz, Flamenco, Mexican, Classical and Arabic colors. Ultimately, though, the surprising artist from Tijuana has figured a way to integrate all five seamlessly in his music. "(by Marco Leopizzi, Music around net Magazine").

Since arriving in Rome, Israel Varela has been one of the most in demand drummers in Europe, capturing the attention of the international music scene. But it is in the context as a leader in his own right that the gifted artist from Tijuana has revealed all his creativity and distinctive style. Besides leading his own group, he has performed with multitudes of renowned Jazz, Flamenco, Classical, Arabic and Pop artists such as: Pat Metheny, Charlie Haden, Yo Yo Ma, Mike Stern, Bireli Lagrene, Bob Mintzer, Diego Amador, Kamal Musallam, Bob Sheppard, Jorge Pardo, Hiram Bullock, Abe Laboriel, Andrea Bocelli, Alex Acuna, Gary Willis, Pino Daniele, Kai Eckhardt ,Montse Cortes, Raimundo Amador, Alfredo Paixao, Otmaro Ruiz, Carles Benavent, John Pena, Rene Toledo, International Philharmonia of the Californias, Orchestra of Baja California, Javier Colina, and Michael Manring.

Born in 1979 in Tijuana, Mexico, Israel grew up in family filled with singers, pianists, guitarrists and orchestral conductors.He began to perform in public at the age of five, singing and playing piano. Years later at the age of twelve he began doing gigs as a drummer with the best Tijuana local Jazz bands, and studied under Gonzalo Farrugia, and Andrei Tchernishev. A major turning point in his life happened in 1995 when his talent was discovered by the great ALEX ACUNA. At the age of fifteen he was studying in Los Angeles privately under ALEX ACUNA(1995-1998), and later under DAVE WECKL(1998/2000) also privately.

Israel Varela has also studied at the Baja Calfiornia Conservatory, Giuseppe Verdi’s Conservatory(Milan) and Santa Cecilia Conservatory(Rome). where he covered academic classes (theory, harmony, ear training, solfege, music history, analysis & counterpoint).

He arrived in Italy on 2001 and lived in Milan were he studied orchestral percussion and contemporary music at Giuseppe VerdiConservatory.

Two years later he moved to Seville were he studied and mastered all the demanding techniques, rhythms & harmonies of Flamenco Music under the great Diego Amador, Luis Amador, and all the “Amador” family, in Las tres mil viviendas. This became an important period for Varela as during this period he developed his own voice as a drummer and as a composer knowing the Flamenco Tradition and using his own original style to add to it. He recalls: “when I first listened to Camaron, and Paco de Lucia, they blew my mind, but then when I listened to Diego Amador's music my life changed".

A few years later Diego Amador called him to join to his Flamenco Quartet.

His debut album "Tijuana Portrait" (2008)with original compositions was internationally acclaimed winning the Euro Latin Award 2008.

Now Varela is taking a new direction on his second album “Border People”, experimenting not only with Flamenco, Jazz and Mexican music, but also taking a new and fresh musical direction focusing in his latest passion: "arabic music", using different sounds and textures and a new set of collaborators, including Arabic Oud player Kamal Musallam and special guest Alex Acuna.

Israel Varela is currently a member of the Diego Amador Trio(Spain), Kamal Musallam Trio(United Arab Emirates), and his own band Israel Varela " Trio"(Italy).

He also teaches Drums at Centro Ottava Music School in Rome.



Rita Marcotulli & Luciano Biondini

The Duet: one of the most minimalist ways of making music together, but also one of the most enthralling - two people relying entirely on each other in a magical dialogue full of candour and harmony.

The power of the melody is the binding force in the interplay between Rita Marcotulli and Luciano Biondini. "La Strada Invisibile" is their joint path on the quest for the magic of the moment, and their mastery of their instruments is the vehicle for advancing straight to the soul of the music.

The origin of their intuitive musical understanding can be found in the remarkable similarities between their careers to date: both began with classical music at a very early age, both developed their musicianship with a classical education, and both are inexorably linked by the love of the traditional songs of their homeland, Italy.

Rita Marcotulli carved herself an impressive international career in a very short time. Alongside jazz greats such as Chet Baker, Joe Lovano, Paul Bley, Palle Danielsson, Michel Portal, Enrico Rava, Pat Metheny and Nguyên Lê, the native Roman also collaborates repeatedly with popular stars of the Italian music scene such as the songwriters Pino Daniele and Gianmaria Testa. Her partner in music, Luciano Biondini, with whom she has worked together in a quartet for some years, is one of

top accordion players on the scene. Rabih Abou-Khalil, Michel Godard, Enrico Rava and most recently the young Polish violinist Adam Bałdych, appreciate his independent artistry that is full of overwhelming drama and emotion without losing itself in technical superficiality. Just like Marcotulli, he grounds his love of jazz with references to the Italian music tradition.

Jazz, classic and Italian songs all flow masterfully together in "La Strada Invisibile". Fascinating moments and new musical revelations arise out of the moment, born of small movements, gestures and lines. It is music full of humour, melancholia, tenderness and temperament. It may be a cliché that sensitivity, emotionality and a lightness of being are considered to be typically Italian, but there is a grain of truth in every cliché, as "La Strada Invisibile" proves.



Die Musik von Rita Marcotulli und Luciano Biondini verzaubert gleichermaßen mit kosmopolitischem Geist und italienischem Esprit.“

The music of Rita Marcotulli and Luciano Biondini enchants the listener with cosmopolitan spirtit and Italian esprit.“

-       Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung


Ein zärtlich bis melancholisch um Melodien kreisendes Album.”

An album around tender to melancholic melodies.“

-       Süddeutsche Zeitung


Ein musikalisches Traumduo hat hier zusammengefunden und ein Traum-Album geschaffen.“

A musical dream duo has come together here and made a dream of an album.”

-       Fidelity


Schöne Melodien, sanfte Zwiegespräche – Herz, was willst du mehr?”

Beautiful melodies, tender conversations – what more can you ask for?“

-       Audio


Ein intimes Rendez-vous.”

An intimate rendez-vour.”

-       Rondo


Die Pianistin und der Akkordeonist begegnen sich in blindem, gegenseitigem Verständnis.“

The pianist and accordeonist encounter each other in blind, mutual understanding.”

-       Jazzpodium


Ein ebenso intimes wie expressives Duo, dessen Musik durch Virtuosität fasziniert und gleichzeitig unter die Haut geht.“

An intimate and expressive duo with music that fascinates through virtuosity and at the same time gets under your skin.”

-       Deutschlandfunk


Musik, die glücklich macht.”

Music that makes you happy.“

-       Deutschlandradio Kultur