by Ian Mann
March 23, 2015
A very enjoyable performance with Minardi playing both his chosen instruments with a high degree of skill and providing perceptive and illuminating observations about the inspirations behind the tunes
Maurizio Minardi Trio, The Gateway Arts Centre, Shrewsbury, 20/03/2015.
Pianist, accordion and composer Maurizio Minardi has been a frequent presence on the Jazzmann web pages since the release of his 2012 album “My Piano Trio” which featured his piano playing in the company of two different trios, one British, the other Italian.
Born in Calabria in southern Italy Minardi moved north to study classical piano and organ at the Conservatory and the University in Bologna before moving to London in 2008.
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 and playing electric keyboards with the fusion group Oz. He has written songs for productions by the Royal Shakespeare Company and for the Italian pop singer Gianni Morandi and even had his work remixed by the DJ Paul Murphy.
Tonight’s performance was part of a short tour in support of Minardi’s latest album release “Piano Ambulance”, a quartet recording that features him on piano alongside the members of his regular UK trio, double bassist Nick Pini and drummer Jason Reeve, with the music being given extra depth and colour through the addition of the cello of Shirley Smart. It’s the most satisfying Minardi recording that I’ve heard to date.
Over the years I’ve covered a number of jazz performances at various venues in Shrewsbury, most of them at The Hive Music & Media Centre where Shropshire Jazz Network run a thriving programme of contemporary jazz events with one concert scheduled every month. I have also reviewed shows by DAGDA and by Trish Clowes at The Gateway, but both of these, rather like tonight’s event were relatively poorly attended. It’s hard to pin down a reason for this, jazz obviously has a healthy following in Shrewsbury but most of the Hive crowd don’t seem to make it across town to The Gateway. Perhaps this is because the latter is primarily seen as a classical venue with jazz events only taking place on a sporadic basis. At the Hive Shropshire’s jazz fans have been able to get themselves into a nice regular monthly routine.
Where the Gateway does score over the Hive is in the possession of a rather splendid grand piano which Minardi was able to make highly effective use of. However tonight’s performance was as much about his talent as an accordionist. In 2013 Minardi released an album with the unwieldy title of “The Cook, the Clown, the Monk and the Accordionist”, a highly engaging recording that focussed on his “box” playing in the company of Pini, Reeve and Smart.
Tonight’s show actually featured more accordion tunes than piano ones with many of the pieces being sourced from “The Cook…”. I suspect that the rest of the tour may have placed more of an emphasis on the piano but with both Smart and Pini being unavailable for this date the focus shifted as Minardi replaced Pini with Milko Ambrogini, an excellent musician with whom Minardi has worked previously but one who is more familiar with the leader’s work on accordion.
Something of a musical polymath Minardi brings a broad range of influences to his composing and performing. His classical training is much in evidence and includes both historic and contemporary influences including the minimalism of Steve Reich, Philip Glass and others. He has also been influenced by the folk music of his native Italy and by film composers such as Nino Rota, Ennio Morricone, Michael Nyman, Yann Tiersen, Rene Aubrey and Riyuichi Sakomoto. For Minardi the accordionist key influences are the Argentinian master of tango Astor Piazzolla and the French innovator Richard Galliano. As a jazz pianist Minardi cites the work of the Swedish group E.S.T. (Esbjorn Svensson Trio) as being particularly influential. All these disparate influences and more were apparent tonight in a show that both educated and entertained as Minardi’s informative tune announcements shed light on the provenance of many of the tunes.
The performance began with Minardi at the piano for “April Sun”, the opening track from the “Piano Ambulance” album. Melodic and lyrical and drawing on both the jazz and classical traditions the ebb and flow of the piece saw Reeve moving between brushes and sticks and also saw Ambrogini demonstrating his skills with an excellent solo. The bassist was a musician whose playing was new to me but I was hugely impressed with his contribution over the course of the evening.
Minardi remained at the piano for “Tulipano Nero” (“Black Tulip”), a tune originally written for the group Quartetto Magritte. The piece was composed in a church during Minardi’s college years and he mentioned the influence of baroque music on the composition. Minardi has a fondness for repeated motifs, something reflective of his love of both minimalism and E.S.T., and this was also in evidence here with his insistent arpeggios forming the backdrop for something of a drum feature from the versatile Reeve, a musician who plays across all genres of music.
Minardi switched to accordion for “Marcello”, a piece born out of Minardi’s love of cinema and dedicated to the actor Marcello Mastroianni and with composer Nino Rota and director Federico Feliini also getting name checks. The music was a mix of Rota’s style with elements of tango as Minardi played his impressive looking piano accordion emblazoned with the name “Victoria”. On line research shows that this is an Italian company based in the town of Castelfidardo. However I preferred the romantic idea of Minardi having given his beautiful instrument the name, thereby making it the bellows driven equivalent of BB King’s guitar, Lucille.
“Marcello” was sourced from the same album as “The Cook In Love”, another tune featuring Minardi on accordion, the piece inspired equally by Italian cuisine and the compositions of Giaochino Rossini (1792 - 1868) , a musician also strongly associated with Bologna. Particularly impressive here was a slowed down central section featuring the church organ styled drones of Minardi’s accordion allied to Ambrogini’s rich, dark arco bass.
From the album “My Piano Trio” the tune “Einaudito” was the first piece that Minardi composed following his move to London. He moved back to the piano to perform this piece, a melodic, melancholy work with a distinct cinematic quality. I’ve always presumed that the composition is a tribute to Minardi’s compatriot, the pianist and composer Ludovico Einaudi although this has never been stated publicly, or at least not to my knowledge. Tonight’s performance was notable for Reeve’s subtle and effective hand drumming and the melodic resonance of Amrbrogini’s pizzicato bass solo.
The accordion tune “Spleen” was jointly inspired by the folk music to be heard in and around Bologna and by the “jazz musette” style pioneered by the ground breaking French accordionist Richard Galliano. Solos here came from Minardi on accordion and Ambrogini on plucked bass as Reeve moved from brushes to sticks as the music gathered momentum.
An innovative, slowed down arrangement of the Latin jazz staple “Besame Mucho” (by the Mexican composer ConsueloVelazquez) followed, bookended by passages of solo accordion and incorporating more effective hand drumming from Reeve and a further pizzicato solo from the increasingly impressive Ambrogini.
The first set closed with another accordion tune, the playful “This Is Not A Rhumba”, a piece with a title inspired by the Belgian surrealist painter Rene Magritte. Minardi conjured almost impossibly high register notes from his accordion above Reeve’s brushed grooves.
Set two began with two very different accordion driven explorations of the world of tango beginning with Minardi’s Piazzolla inspired “Tango Bassafundo” (literally “Dirty Tango”). With solos from the composer plus Ambrogini on pizzicato bass the piece remained true to its tango origins and sounded convincingly authentic.
The theme from the film “Last Tango on Paris” reflected Minardi’s love of both tango and cinema and was written by the Argentinian saxophonist and composer Gato Barbieri. The beautiful melody mixed together elements of tango and musette to great effect to create the sense of place demanded by the title.
The sheer breadth of Minardi’s influences was exemplified by his piano reading of the Beatles song “And I Love Her” with Minardi using Paul McCartney’s melody as the launch point for expansive solos from both himself and Ambrogini.
The accordion tune “Penguin” was a homage to the music of Simon Jeffes and the Penguin Café Orchestra and was a whimsical and thoroughly accessible piece that combined the influences of folk music and minimalism in a very recognisable PCO type way.
Inspired by Vivaldi “The Black Book” was a particularly expressive and dramatic accordion tune with Reeve’s most forceful playing of the night helping to set the mood. For the majority of the evening his playing was precise, nuanced, sympathetic and subtle, the epitome of wasteful drumming.
The title track from “Piano Ambulance” used dynamic contrasts to represent the contrasting sounds of London, from the roar of traffic and its associated sirens to the quiet to be discovered in the green spaces of the capital’s parks. European, and particularly Italian, cities don’t tend to have such spaces explained Minardi. Beginning with a passage of solo piano the shifting dynamics of the tune embraced a piano/bass duet, minimalist melodic motifs and the kind of anthemic soaring that one associates with E.S.T.
Set two ended with the epic story telling of “The Monk’s Escape” which incorporated a frantic opening section with a more freely structured mid tune episode as the accordion toting Minardi depicted the tale of the title character’s escape attempts, firstly ending in failure but ultimately achieving liberation.
The audience may have been small but the lack of numbers was made up for by the obvious enthusiasm of those who were there. For a well deserved encore the trio played an energetic “Tarantella” inspired by the music of Minardi’s native region of Calabria and originally written for a production of “The Taming Of The Shrew” by the RSC.
The encore represented a final chance for Minardi to demonstrate his virtuosity on the accordion. I very much enjoyed the “The Cook…” album but listening on CD didn’t really prepare me for the brilliance of this display. Minardi is a brilliant accordion player, full stop. As I’ve stated before I actually prefer his playing to that of better known exponents of the instrument such as Galliardo.
This was a very enjoyable performance with Minardi playing both his chosen instruments with a high degree of skill and providing perceptive and illuminating observations about the inspirations behind the tunes. He received excellent support from both Ambrogini and Reeve with the bassist doing a great job as a “dep”.
There were disappointing elements, notably the tiny audience and the absence of Smart who makes such a significant contribution to the success of the “Piano Ambulance” album. Also I’d have liked to have heard a bit more piano, especially with such a magnificent instrument being available. That said Minardi’s virtuosity on what I’ve always thought of as his “second instrument” was little short of astonishing and a real eye opener.
Minardi and his colleagues had delivered an excellent performance in what were pretty difficult circumstances and overall I was very impressed, despite the reservations noted above. The sheer depth of his musical knowledge and range of influences allied to his awesome technical skills means that he’s a musician I’d be more than happy to see in concert again, I suspect that no two performances are going to be exactly alike. And the trio are all nice guys too, always a very welcome bonus.
Since the concert I’ve been catching up with “Piano Ambulance” and can only reiterate my comments about what a fine album it is. I also treated myself to a copy of an early Quartetto Magritte album “Aspettando Cofferatzinger” which features Minardi on piano alongside Simone Zanchini on accordion, Luca Cantelli on bass and Claudio Bonora at the drums. Recorded at two separate performances in 1997 and 2002 it’s a typically wide ranging collection featuring some great playing and is well worth hearing.
Further dates on the current tour are as follows;
27 March Key Theatre Studio (Peterborough) 7.30pm
29 March Omnibus Arts Centre, Clapham Common (London) 7pm
18th April Oliver’s Jazz Bar, Greenwich, London
Further information at http://www.mauriziominardi.co.uk
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