MY FIRST ENCOUNTER with the music of Maurizio Minardi was as recent as last month, when a solitary character stepped up, with accordion, to set up on one of the free stages at the popular annual Kings Place Festival, London, joined by cellist and double bassist. Excitingly, I had no expectation nor preconception of what this trio were about to offer to their waiting audience.
What ensued was both a charming and enthralling introduction, for me, to a new soundworld where the players shared between them their enthusiasm and joy for their leader’s highly individual compositions, all delivered with gusto and flair. The gathering, appreciative audience (summoned by the lush sounds travelling up through the venue’s open spaces) revelled in the bright melodies – frequently fast-paced, sometimes lyrical, often fun. And, by the close of the set, I felt I wanted to hear more from this London-based Italian who has, I have discovered, an impressive CV – often as sideman to a great array of artists, as well as pursuing his own projects.
So to this, Minardi’s current album, from which the live performance drew a good number of tunes (and clearly stayed in my head, as they were pleasantly familiar on my first CD listen-through). The instrumental grouping – on disc, a quartet, with drums – may at first seem unusual, but I have quickly grown to love this music which retains the same lively interaction that I witnessed live; and, most of all, communicates the joyful vibe they create together.
Boasting a lengthy album title (a parody of Peter Greenaway’s late ’80s romantic crime drama, ‘The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover’ – a “grotesque fresco of eccentric characters in a very elegant restaurant”), Minardi appears to delight in storytelling (perhaps I should watch the Greenaway movie, or Minardi’s own music videos, to connect more with the intriguing track names!). There is considerable energy, passion and pace here, readily conjuring much theatrical or cinematic imagery, sometimes suggesting colour-faded continental movies of the ’60s. However, Maurizio’s music is certainly for the here and now, sounding fresh with its colourful and creative influences of jazz, folk, baroque, opera, dance, burlesque… even music hall. The real essence of this recording is to be found by immersing oneself in the whole experience – but here’s an overview:
Opening number ‘The Cook in Love’ immediately throws us into Minardi’s world with its engaging pulse, supported by the repeated rhythm of Shirley Smart’s cello and Nick Pini’s bass, only pausing briefly for a romantic (maybe melancholy) cello, bass and piano interlude. ‘Penguin’ has such an affable air which, with its easy-going bass, you’d swear was a tune you’ve known all your life… and a quirky video completes the fun of this short and deceptively simple piece – a definite ‘smiler’! The dark, fast-moving tarantella-like ‘Monk’s Escape’ reveals Maurizio’s command of his instrument; and ‘Five is Better than Four’ is another rhythmically strong, instantly likeable and buoyant tune, led by Smart’s beautiful cello tone. Somewhere within ‘The Black Book’ hides a baroque spirit, its gorgeous chord sequences, percussive fills and jazzy bassline making it a winner. Mysterious and mischievious, ‘Marcello’ wonderfully changes the mood again, before the breakneck pace of ‘The Taming of the Shrew‘ hurtles off, vivid chase imagery to the fore! ‘The Gambling Queen’ is decidely sinister, bass and cello creating an almost hurdy-gurdy-type rhythm against Jason Reeve’s hollow beat, but with a serene, sublime harmonium-like central section. Finally, ‘Dirty Clown’ reveals yet another facet of Minardi’s compositional skills, its initial gentle, melodic theme giving way to a freer section where he and drummer Marco Quarantotto begin to break out, suggesting improvisational directions they might yet explore.
Maurizio Minardi is a master in creating different textures and moods within this quartet (‘The Monk’s Escape’ is a great illustration of this) and, with his abilities also as a saxophonist, it is intriguing to imagine how the timbre of a higher-flying solo instrument such as a clarinet or jazz flute might occasionally complement the lower, warm combination of accordion and strings. I continue to be captivated by this discovery – a highly entertaining release from an impassioned and accomplished ensemble!
Maurizio Minardi accordion and piano
Shirley Smart cello
Nick Pini double bass
Jason Reeve / Marco Quarantotto drums
Belfagor Label – MM11 (2013)