‘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


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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