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Maurizio Minardi

Piano Ambulance


by Ian Mann

February 17, 2015


The most satisfying Minardi album that I've heard thus far. It's the addition of Shirley Smart's cello that really marks this album out as different. She brings a real depth and richness to the music

Maurizio Minardi

“Piano Ambulance”

(Belfagor Records MM12)

The Italian born musician Maurizio Minardi has been based in London since 2008 and is a busy figure on the capital’s music scene. The versatile Minardi is equally adept on both piano and accordion and has recorded on both instruments with the albums “My Piano Trio” (2012) and “The Cook, the Clown, the Monk and the Accordionist”  receiving reviews elsewhere on the Jazzmann.

Classically trained Minardi studied at both the Conservatoire and the University in Bologna before moving to London. In the UK he has worked with an impressive array of jazz musicians and vocalists including Brandon Allen, Quentin Collins,  Maciek Pysz, Asaf Sirkis, Yuri Golubev, Carmen Souza and Georgia Mancio. He has also been associated with several leading Italian musicians including guitarist Antonio Forcione and trumpeters Paolo Fresu and Enrico Rava. Minardi’s broad musical knowledge has seen him leading the jazz/tango group Quartetto Magritte, where he features on accordion, and playing electric keyboards with the fusion group Oz.

“Piano Ambulance” again finds Minardi working with the rhythm pairing of Nick Pini (double bass) and Jason Reeve (drums),  both of whom appeared on the two recent albums mentioned above. It also features the cello of Shirley Smart of Melange Collective who also made a substantial contribution to the recent accordion album. Smart has previously appeared on these pages through her contribution to “China Lane”, the excellent début album by vocalist/violinist Alice Zawadzki. Pini has previously appeared with pianist Will Butterworth and with drummer Dylan Howe. 

The music on “Piano Ambulance” reflects Minardi’s broad cultural background and references jazz, contemporary classical music, tango and more contemporary urban grooves and rhythms. Smart adds a distinctive extra musical voice to the nine Minardi originals that make up the record. She brings a welcome touch of melancholy to the melodic and lyrical “April Sun” which opens the album. Minardi’s classically honed lightness of touch is immediately apparent and bassist Pini also makes a significant contribution.

Unaccompanied piano arpeggios introduce the title track which unfolds gradually through a series of peaks and troughs, the mood ranging between the soft and lyrical and the hard grooving. There’s a hint of the influence of E.S.T. in the way that Minardi’s pieces develop but this is now less overt than it was on the “My Piano Trio” album. The breadth and scope of his writing also evokes the work of film composers such as Ennio Morricone, Nino Rota and Michael Nyman. 

The quirky “Goodbye London” also suggests the influence of the Penguin Café Orchestra with its busily circling piano motifs and interlocking rhythms. There’s maybe a hint of Reich and the minimalists in there too. Bit Minardi, and particularly Smart, are soon steering the music somewhere else. Smart’s rich cello sonorities add substantial depth and gravitas to the music and her bowed lines sometimes remind me of Dan Berglund’s heavily treated arco bass with E.S.T.

Although Minardi’s writing regularly makes use of repeated motifs he’s also prepared to alter direction frequently with several changes of mood and pace often occurring within the space of a single tune. “Friday Almost” is a case in point as it switches from a busy urban groove to a spacious, dolorous passage featuring sparse piano and deeply resonant pizzicato double bass yet makes the transition seem perfectly natural.

Such transitions are a constant throughout the record as “Secret Skin” incorporates some of the most frenetic, urgent playing of the album with Smart wringing some decidedly non-classical sounds out of her cello. Yet it resolves itself with a short, contemplative passage of great beauty.

The lush, brooding balladry of “Indulgence”  incorporates some of the most obviously classically inspired playing of the set, particularly from the leader. However Pini’s delightful pizzicato bass solo above Reeve’s subtle hand drumming keeps the music firmly within the realms of jazz. A word of praise here for Reeve whose sympathetic drumming is excellent throughout, never intrusive yet always providing just the right colour or accent.

“Dangerous Innocence” emerges from quiet beginnings to deliver to deliver an edgy, urban type vibe incorporating Minardi’s feverishly repeated piano patterns and Pini’s alternately strummed/plucked bass. It then ends with the quiet beauty of Smart’s cello as the focus shifts yet again.

Minardi has said that this album is substantially influenced by his adopted home city of London and that the music is an attempt to capture both its relentless pace but also the very human moments of poignancy that are a reflection of modern city life. The previous six tracks are a successful distillation of this aim and the process continues on “Seven Sisters”, the title presumably informed by that area of North London. Smart’s cello delivers the poignancy above Minardi’s chiming piano figures and there’s also an accomplished solo from the excellent Pini. There’s an air of spirituality about this piece that reminded me of William Blake - or even Jah Wobble if you want a modern counterpart, even though the music sounds nothing like that of the former PIL bassist.

The airy and lyrical “Francesca’s Gloves” closes the album, a rare excursion into piano trio mode as Smart sits this one out. Pini takes a final opportunity to demonstrate his abilities as a top quality bass soloist and Reeves’ brush work is a delight.

“Piano Ambulance” is the most satisfying Minardi album that I’ve heard thus far. Despite the frequent use of repeated motifs the music is constantly in a state of flux, changing in ways that both absorb and delight the listener. The core trio, all excellent technicians, play superbly throughout but it’s the addition of Smart’s cello that really marks this album out as different. Her playing brings a real depth and richness to the music and together with Ben Davis (Basquiat Strings etc.) and Lucy Railton she must rank as one of the leading cello improvisers in the UK. I really enjoyed her contribution here.

The quartet will launch the album in London at The Vortex on February 18th 2015 and will then be touring the UK in March. Dates are shown below. I’ve yet to see Minardi performing live and I’m looking forward to catching up with him and the quartet in Shrewsbury on March 20th. 

2015 Tour dates

18 February   Vortex (London) 8pm   ** ALBUM LAUNCH **

4 March       Hull Jazz Club (Hull) 8.30pm

5 March       Queens Hall Arts (Hexham) 7.30pm

6 March       Pound Arts (Corsham) 7.30pm

10 March     Annie’s Jazz (Southend) 8.30pm

20 March       Gateway Arts Centre (Shrewsbury) 7.45pm

27 March     Key Theatre Studio (Peterborough) 7.30pm

29 March     Omnibus Arts Centre (London)  7pm


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