Room of Mirrors
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Reviewed by: Ian Mann
A sturdy slice of post E.S.T. piano jazz with an emphasis on accessible grooves and the blending of acoustic and electronic elements.
Kekko Fornarelli’s Kube
“Room Of Mirrors”
(Auand Records AU3002)
This 2011 album is the latest release by the Italian pianist and composer Kekko Fornarelli (born Bari, 1978) and features his Kube trio consisting of Luca Bulgarelli (double bass) and Gianlivio Liberti (drums).
Fornarelli grew up with classical music and began learning the piano at the age of three. He later studied at the Conservatorio Piccinni in his home city and only turned to jazz at the age of eighteen. He has subsequently emerged as a leading figure on the Italian jazz scene playing with a host of Italian and international jazz musicians among them saxophonist Rosario Giuliani, trumpeter Flavio Boltro and bassists Michel Benita and Yuri Golubev.
“Room Of Mirrors”, his third album, consists of eight Fornarelli compositions and also features the pianist on Fender Rhodes and synthesiser. The writing owes much to the ideas of the late Esbjorn Svensson, a readily acknowledged influence, and Fornarelli has spoken of his desire to introduce his jazz based music to a wider demographic, as Svensson and E.S.T. did so successfully until Svensson’s tragic death in 2008.
“Room Of Mirrors” is thus a sturdy slice of post E.S.T. piano jazz with an emphasis on accessible grooves and the blending of acoustic and electronic instruments. Harmonically the music ranges from the very simple to the highly complex and Fornarelli’s classical training is expressed in elements of neo classical romanticism. As the accompanying press release suggests Fornarelli takes Northern European ideas and gives them a southern Italian accent. It could be argued that Kube’s music is derivative but it is also accessible, melodic, very contemporary and highly enjoyable with a series of irresistible hooks and grooves.
Fornarelli’s liner notes give some insight into the inspirations behind the compositions. The title track, which opens the album, is a reflection on the concept of finding oneself alone in a room of mirrors and the sense of self doubt and alienation that such a thing could induce in the occupant. The music mirrors this precept building from an opening of sparse piano chords through E.S.T. like melodies and grooves with just a soupçon of eerie electronica. Fornarelli’s improvising becomes more complex as the composition develops but the piece never loses its sense of melody and the whole is underpinned by a kind of yearning romanticism.
Fornarelli’s writing is based on his experiences of contemporary life and his compositions often have a highly visual aspect. This is nowhere better illustrated than on the pulsing, urgent “Daily Jungle” his interpretation of the pressures of living in today’s frenetic, sound bite society. Again the sound of E.S.T. is the most obvious reference point with the insistent bass and drum grooves fuelling Fornarelli’s often feverish improvising. Again a judicious thread of electronica laces the composition. Fornarelli deploys his electronic components tastefully and judiciously, they add atmosphere and texture but are never allowed to dominate. As with his role models E.S.T. one is never left in doubt that this is essentially a piano trio recording, albeit a very contemporary one.
“The Flavour of Clouds” slows things down and is unashamedly romantic and often achingly beautiful. The sense of space, minimalistic accompaniment and an underlying gospel feel perhaps position this closer to Tord Gustavsen than E.S.T.
“Dreams And Compromise” showcases the abilities of bassist Luca Bulgarelli who impresses with the dexterity,lyricism and resonance of his solo. Elsewhere Liberti’s colourful drumming support Fornarelli’s increasingly expansive piano soloing. The overall scope of the piece is impressive as it builds organically via an E.S.T. style theme and chord progressions.
As the title suggests “Children’s Eyes” is another fine example of Fornarelli’s more lyrical and romantic tendencies with a simple, child like melody the basis for his musings on childhood innocence. However the piece subtly evolves into something more epic with the anthemic theme underscored by subtle electronica.
“Coffee & Cigaretees” celebrates life’s simple pleasures, sitting at a café in the town square sharing coffee and cigarettes with friends. Fornarelli draws his two colleagues into the circle and both enjoy brief solo features on this breezy, gently grooving paean to friendship.
In a well balanced programme “Time Goes On” represents another quiet and reflective interlude with Fornarelli’s airy touch at the keyboard delicately embellished by Fornarelli’s sympathetic brushwork and Bulgarelli’s deeply lyrical double bass solo before the piece expands into something more forceful and groove oriented and then back again. It’s a good example of the episodic nature of some of Fornarelli’s writing, particularly appropriate with the inexorable march of time providing the inspiration for the piece.
The album ends on a breezily optimistic note with “Night Lights”, a musical depiction of a relaxing drive in the dark on a summer night with the top down. Liberti’s playful hand drum undertow gently propels Fornarelli’s relaxedly joyous soloing (the pianist doubles up on Fender Rhodes for the tune’s opening statement). It’s a lovely way to end a highly accomplished album.
Immaculately recorded by engineer Tommy Cavalieri at Bari’s Sorriso Studios “Room Of Mirrors” is a highly enjoyable album with a strong pictorial quality. Yes, it’s very much in thrall to E.S.T. but Fornarelli brings enough of himself to the table to make his highly personal compositions convincing. It’s very much the pianist’s record, Bulgarelli and Liberti are accomplished and sympathetic accompanists but the levels of group interaction are less than those of their Swedish mentors. Nevertheless “Room Of Mirrors” has much to offer fans of contemporary jazz piano, particularly followers of E.S.T., Neil Cowley, The Bad Plus and numerous other contemporary European and American trios from Michael Wollny’s to Brad Mehldau.
The trio are due to play at the Italian Cultural Institute at 39 Belgrave Square, London on May 16th 2012 and I’d urge anybody who may be reading this to attend if you can. On the evidence of this album this is a concert that should be well worth seeing.
JAZZ MANN FEATURES
The sun shines on the final day of an excellent festival.
Ian Mann soaks up the vibes at Cheltenham Jazz Festival.