‘Via Maris’ – Melange

Melange

MELANGE BY NAME, melange by nature… this jazz-inflected world music release from cellist Shirley Smart’s London-based collective is gloriously difficult to categorise.

Along with Smart, the core line-up in this recording comprises Stefanos Tsourelis (oud), Peter Michaels (guitar) and Demi Garcia Sabat (drums, percussion) – a quartet whose celebration of Middle Eastern, North African and Mediterranean music is, by turns, joyous, atmospheric and often deeply affecting. But then add in significant contributions from Maurizio Minardi (accordion), Joe Browne (saxophones), Jake Painter (trumpet) and Michele Mintolli (bass), and the creative hues become more broadly pronounced.

In 1989, Shirley Smart swapped the UK for Jerusalem, becoming immersed in its cultural life for a decade. It was there that this eight-piece ensemble was conceived, bringing together musicians from Greece, Spain, Morocco, Iraq, Italy and the UK – and importantly, despite prevailing political and social tensions in areas of conflict, these artists were able to continue to compose and perform together, confirming music’s universal power to transcend and overcome such challenges. Smart’s open and eclectic vision for this group is surely founded on her experiences performing with Palestinian, Israeli and Moroccan bands, as well as tours across Europe, Russia, Jordan and Egypt.

The overriding impression is of live, interactive music, joyfully played – easy to imagine a distant, energised pulse or lyrical phrase caught on the breeze, gradually intensifying with each closer footfall until this impassioned music is seen and heard in all its colourful splendour. And however familiar or unfamiliar this exotic sound world – incorporating Arabic maqam, jazz improvisation and including traditional tunes plus original compositions – the impassioned instrumental textures and rhythms become wholly arresting. Indeed, to more Western ears, the sound of Stefanos Tsourelis’ oud immediately evokes the world of Anouar Brahem, as in spirited opening number Bia Oula Bik (Between Me and You) whose whirling vibrancy is accentuated by trumpet and sax, and also in sultry, percussively fragrant Anosis.

Throughout, the leader’s assured, often vigorous improvisations are integral to the overall palette, her own Marrocai burning brightly in festive folkiness, with Peter Michaels’ guitar and Tsourelis’ oud complementing the rich cello sonority; and Maurizio Minardi’s typically adventurous, evocative accordion in old Iraqi love song Foq El-Nakhal contributes greatly to an irresistible levity. Longa Kismet‘s smouldering mystery confirms just how effective the quartet of cello, oud, guitar and percussion can be, whilst the gentle introduction of Joe Browne’s chromatic soprano sax and Minardi’s subtle accordion in Anouar Brahem’s Halfaouine adds spice.

Certainly a journey into the unknown, this album delights at every turn: Erotokritos sounding fascinatingly medieval, Longa Sha’anaz‘s exotic riffs absolutely charming, Azraq (another of Smart’s originals) hitting a rocky groove as well as treading into dark, oud-improvised alleyways, and Greek- or perhaps Bulgarian-suggested Kiselo Mlkako fizzes with audacious, exuberant mischief (‘has to be heard!). Breathless, anarchic, tenor-screeched Turkish stomper Longa Sakiz, too, is a brilliant showstopper, whilst end piece Sound of the Ground parties on with an almost Mexican radiance.

Melange are a complete delight, and Via Maris an enthralling debut release. Available as CD or download, on Two Rivers Records, at Bandcamp.

 

Shirley Smart cello
Stefanos Tsourelis oud
Peter Michaels guitar
Demi Garcia Sabat drums, percussion
with
Maurizio Minardi accordion (tracks 1, 4, 6, 10, 11, 12)
Joe Browne saxophones (tracks 1, 6 , 11, 12)
Jake Painter trumpet (tracks 1, 7, 12)
Michele Montolli bass (tracks 1, 10, 11, 12)

melangecollective.com

Two Rivers Records – TRR 013 (2016)

‘Live at ReVoice!’ – Georgia Mancio

GeorgiaMancio

A SONG isn’t truly a song until it reaches out and grabs your heart, with both singer and accompanist sharing the enjoyment and responsibility of sensitively breathing life into its particular character. Communication is all.

Some five years ago, London-based vocalist Georgia Mancio founded her popular ReVoice! Festival (in association with the Pizza Express Jazz Club), and has since curated and programmed more than 160 emerging and established artists, including Norma Winstone, John Taylor, Kenny Wheeler, Carleen Anderson, Claire Martin and Gregory Porter. Amongst this abundance of live jazz showcases has been Georgia herself, making 44 appearances to date – and somehow, she has managed to whittle down numerous recorded accounts from the festival into this hour-long, twelve-track treasure trove.

What particularly stands out about this release is the raw, pared-down sincerity of the performances. Georgia Mancio shares the stage each time with a single guest instrumentalist – and rather than any sense of ‘anonymous accompanist’, there’s an enthralling synergy between them; in some respects, no surprise at all when the calibre of the musicians (listed below) is taken into account. These are bold, no-hiding-place expressions, and Mancio – as storyteller – possesses an innate adaptability, both in technique and artistry, to enhance the melodies and lyrics of these well-chosen pieces so naturally and so clearly, without the need for over-embellishment or showboating. And that’s classy.

Wherever you dive in, this music has the ability to stop you in your tracks. The wistful, affectionate poetry of Paul Simon’s I Do It For Your Love is softly illuminated by Mancio’s gliding phraseology and endearing vibrato, with Nikki Iles’ subtle pianistic invention typically exquisite; and the emotion of Sting’s Fragile is drawn into focus as Andrew Cleyndert’s cantabile double bass wraps itself around the vocalist’s poignant yet agile delivery. The impudent swagger of Hendricks/Turrentine number Sugar is priceless – a fabulously intuitive double-act with Mancio’s rapid, teasing phrases matched by Laurence Cottle’s bluesy, looped, 5-string bass brilliance; whilst Sammy Cahn’s The Things We Did Last Summer, to Colin Oxley’s luscious electric guitar chords and fleet-fingered extemporisations, couldn’t be more carefree (especially when Georgia’s signature whistling completes the sunshiny picture).

The wistfulness of Lennon & McCartney’s In My Life is elegantly reimagined, James Pearson’s rubato piano so at one with the vocal; as is Carole King’s Going Back, with Liane Carroll’s characteristic keyboard grandeur honouring that strong ’60s songwriting tradition. Michael Janisch’s double bass is recognisably and percussively ebullient (audacious, even!) in quickfire Just In Time, Mancio scatting energetically; and the shared Italian heritage of the vocalist and her accordionist Maurizio Minardi is eloquently expressed in Le Strade Di Notte, Minardi’s rising and falling dynamics intimating dimly-lit melancholy.

A handful of piano-accompanied jewels complete the selection, including delightfully waltzing yet bittersweet Bendita, co-written by Mancio and Tom Cawley; charming Willow Weep For Me (Jason Rebello’s harmonic searchings so magical); Robert Mitchell’s lithe fingerwork pirouetting with Mancio’s impressive vocal elaborations on Just Friends; and an irresistibly misty end piece, David Bowie’s When I Live My Dream, accompanied by Ian Shaw.

Seasoned fans of ReVoice! will probably be itching to get their hands on this. For any other appreciator of beautifully-fashioned vocal jazz… equally, it’s a must.

Released on 26 November 2015, on Roomspin Records, Live at ReVoice! can be purchased from Jazz CDs and Amazon, as well as at iTunes.

 

Georgia Mancio voice
with
Liane Carroll piano
Tom Cawley piano
Andrew Cleyndert double bass
Laurence Cottle electric bass
Nikki Iles piano
Michael Janisch double bass
Maurizio Minardi accordion
Robert Mitchell piano
Colin Oxley guitar
James Pearson piano
Jason Rebello piano
Ian Shaw piano

georgiamancio.com

Roomspin Records – 1942 (2015)

‘Piano Ambulance’ – Maurizio Minardi

PianoAmbulance

MAURIZIO Minardi’s The Cook the Clown the Monk and the Accordionist of 2013 showcased the London-based Italian’s brilliance with the accordion in an engaging album of his own jazz compositions characterised by humour, theatre and showmanship.

New release Piano Ambulance shifts the focus of his unequivocal technical expertise to his first instrument, piano, with another fascinating programme of self-penned works – this time for piano quartet (with trio members bassist Nick Pini and drummer Jason Reeve, plus the sustained depth of Shirley Smart’s cello). The instrumental combination of the four is as distinctive as it is effective, capturing Minardi’s penchant for visual music which is so evidently cinematic in its predominance of drama, urgency and storytelling, whilst also contrasted by delightfully delicate interludes.

The siren-suggested piano oscillations of title number Piano Ambulance develop in vigorous Einaudian earnestness, balanced with a trio serenity which indicates the story behind Minardi’s album naming (his positive experiences of the beneficial, cathartic effects of live music that can sometimes be found in English hospitals and nursing homes). April Sun exudes an endearingly spacial, childlike simplicity peppered with the pianist’s improvisations, yet still with unsettled, ambulant overtones; and Goodbye London – its initial fluttering, tricksy moto perpetuo rhythms reminiscent of Penguin Cafe – builds into melodramatic grandeur enhanced by emotionally yearning cello.

Friday Almost paints pictures of both anticipatory joy and rush-hour bustle before relaxing into the most tranquil, electronic-tinged oasis, whilst the menacing impetus of Secret Skin resounds to Shirley Smart’s abrasive, Anja Lechner-like glissando extemporisations and Jason Reeve’s propulsive drum/cymbal accuracy (here, again, the quartet display their deftness in emotively ‘turning on a sixpence’ to sparser territory). There’s a stately, pseudo-Baroque air to Indulgence – and, complete with Minardi’s elegant piano ornamentation and Nick Pini’s delicious bass improvisation, its grazioso melody might easily be sung to words.

A strong sense of narrative defines Dangerous Innocence, Minardi’s characteristic piano ostinati (at times not unlike Michael Nyman or Philip Glass) escalating to a troubled, driven episode until a melancholy cello melody closes; certainly soundtrack material, as is Seven Sisters, a loftier, romantic affair coloured by Pini’s bass and Smart’s cello. In trio finale Francesca’s Gloves, the absence of Minardi’s familiar, repetitious pulse creates a more typically Italian style with subtle Bachian shades redolent of, say, pianists Paolo Paliaga or Michele Di Toro – an exquisite closer with a suppleness informed by the lightness of both Reeve’s percussion and Pini’s bass.

Released on 2 February 2015 and launching at The Vortex, London, on 18 February, Maurizio Minardi is touring Piano Ambulance during March (see dates below) – and, having previously seen this quartet live, I heartily recommend the excitement and entertainment value to be found in their intuitive performances.

 

Maurizio Minardi piano
Nick Pini double bass
Jason Reeve drums
Shirley Smart cello

March 2015 tour dates
4 March: Hull Jazz Club, Hull
5 March: Queens Hall Arts, Hexham
6 March: Pound Arts, Corsham
10 March: Annie’s Jazz, Southend
20 March: Gateway Arts Centre, Shrewsbury
27 March: Key Theatre Studio, Peterborough
29 March: Omnibus Arts Centre, London

mauriziominardi.com

Belfagor Label – MM12 (2014)

‘Chasing Beauty’ – Francesco Lo Castro

ChasingBeauty

THIS LATEST RECORDING from Italian guitarist and composer Francesco Lo Castro presents a sequence of twelve originals which weave together qualities of jazz, ambience and soundtrack.

Lo Castro is clearly an accomplished musician, surrounding himself here with instrumentalists who, together, are able to illuminate the delicacy of his writing and playing. I have been listening to ‘Chasing Beauty’ for some time and have warmed to its gentle guitar-led positivity and charm which, Lo Castro explains, seeks to reflect beauty as “an idea, a feeling that we might never fully understand but which is worth chasing”.

Opening number Dresden immediately identifies the album’s sanguine outlook, Lo Castro’s pin-sharp melodies partnered by Dora Maria’s violin, scurrying along above a wash of guitar effects, Saverio Gerardi’s rhythmic impetus and Noa Bodner’s backing vocals. A son’s tribute, Father, takes a simple folksong-like guitar tune and develops it into a quietly buoyant hymn of gratitude (not unlike the movie scoring of Mark Knopfler), Fulvio Sigurta’s mellow trumpet enhancing Lo Castro’s tender lead. With percussion, shimmering guitar effects and Joe Fowler’s lithe, soft-toned flute, Sahara might easily evoke the shifting sands of North Africa – an amiable and bright musical journey; and As It Is hints again at Lo Castro’s ear for soundtrack – delightful harmonica and vocals from Bodner, and muted flugel reminiscent of Paolo Fresu.

The exquisite Love speaks briefly and romantically, leading to May 2011, an infectiously cheery and folksy outing (Lo Castro’s style sounding remarkably similar to that of Frode Alnaes) and Maurizio Minardi adds characteristic accordion. Gentle bossa If I perpetuates the feel-good, as does the vocally introduced Embrace and the perhaps more mysterious Dark Smiles. Carefree and ‘lazy, hazy’ Bunch of Houses and Wonderful Memories is a short, sweet miniature (Minardi on sax) followed by the serenely wistful flute melody of Nino and Dunia. Peter Pan closes the set in upbeat theme-tune fashion, its catchy electric lead melody and general exuberance (not to mention Lo Castro’s dexterity) a real pleasure.

Amongst the numerous albums which arrive at my door for review, the majority are exciting ‘boundary pushers’. But ‘Chasing Beauty’ is different… and pleasingly so, for its unashamed honesty, high spirits and (simply) this fine musician’s ear for a good tune. Banish the ‘Winter blues’ with Francesco Lo Castro’s own brand of optimism!

For more information: flocastro.com


Francesco Lo Castro
 acoustic & electric guitars, piano, congas, tambourine, drums
Fulvio Sigurta trumpet, flugelhorn
Noa Bodner vocals, harmonica
Dora Maria violin
Joe Fowler flute
Maurizio Minardi accordion, saxophone
Svetlana Savvina double bass
Dado Pasqualini percussion
Sophie Alloway & Saverio Gerardi drums

Flocastro Records – FLR009CD (2013)

‘The Cook the Clown the Monk and the Accordionist’ – Maurizio Minardi


Image

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)

Website: http://www.mauriziominardi.co.uk
YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/gormac