by Ian Mann
August 08, 2013
A highly rewarding album full of clever musical ideas. Minardi fuses musical styles seamlessly and his technique on an often unfashionable instrument is frequently astonishing.
“The Cook, the Clown, the Monk and the Accordionist”
(Belfagor Label MM11)
Italian composer, pianist and accordionist Maurizio Minardi divides his time between London and his homeland and studied music at both the conservatoire and the university in Bologna.. He has worked with a variety of jazz musicians including Quentin Collins, Brandon Allen, Yuri Golubev, Asaf Sirkis, Maciek Pysz, Paolo Fresu, Enrico Rava and Antonio Forcione as well as with Portugese singer Carmen Souza and even with the Royal Shakespeare Company. He has also written songs for Italian pop singers such as Gianni Morandi and had had his work remixed by DJ Paul Murphy.
Minardi has performed with tango and fusion groups as well as leading his own piano trio as documented on his previous album release simply titled “My Piano Trio” (reviewed elsewhere on this site). The piano album combined aspects of Minardi’s classical training with more contemporary elements with the Italian citing the music of E.S.T. as a substantial influence.
This new album, with a title shamelessly ripped from the Peter Greenaway film of a very similar nomenclature, offers a similar blend of classical and jazz influences interspersed by folk and tango strands and also delivers a nod in the direction of film composers such as Michael Nyman (who scored the Greenaway film), Nino Rota, Ennio Morricone, Yann Tiersen, Rene Aubrey and Ryuichi Sakomoto.
The personnel includes the members of Minardi’s UK based piano trio in the shape of Nick Pini on double bass and Jason Reeve at the drums. Shirley Smart on cello provides an intriguing extra instrumental voice and Marco Quarantotto replaces Reeve on four of the album’s eleven tracks. Pini recently appeared on the Jazzmann pages when he impressed guest reviewer Tony Walton at a performance by pianist Will Butterworth’s quartet at London’s Vortex Jazz Club.
Opener “The Cook In Love” is a joyously stirring introduction to Minardi’s accordion skills with Reeve’s brushed shuffle providing added momentum. Smart’s cello links well with the leader’s accordion adding both rhythmic drive and counter melody. She also comes to the fore on a more reflective central section.
“Penguin” is as charmingly whimsical as its title might suggest, although I suspect it’s less a tribute to the waddling Antarctic sea bird than an oblique homage to Simon Jeffes and the Penguin Café Orchestra. The musical style has more than a touch of Penguin Café about it.
The titles of the next three tunes suggest that they be regarded as some kind of trilogy. “The Monk’s Escape” with Quarantotto on drums, progresses through several stages, some of them based around rapidly repeated figures. Tentative and exuberant by turns the tune has a strong narrative arc that hints at the work of the film composers listed above.
“The Monk Abandoned” eschews drums in favour of accordion and cello induced melancholia. It’s a salutary lesson as to just how emotive an instrument the often maligned “squeeze box” can be with Smart enhancing Minardi’s every move.
Finally comes “The Monk Is Back” with our protagonist returning in celebratory triumph. The tune is a veritable romp, reminiscent of the joyousness of both folk dances and circus music.
“Five Is Better Than Four” embraces folk melody with Smart’s richly textured cello frequently assuming the lead and with Reeve’s drums bringing a more contemporary element to the proceedings. The piece is in five (hence the title) with the rhythms forming an intriguing contrast to the simple beauty of the gorgeous melody.
“The Black Book” makes use of repeated chord patterns that sometimes recall the music of Steve Reich - but there’s nothing academic about the energy and exuberance of the quartet’s playing.
“Marcello” is a homage to film star Marcello Mastroianni and combines elements of tango with Nino Rota style narrative lyricism.
“The Taming Of The Shrew” fairly races along with Minardi’s accordion variously filling both melodic and rhythmic functions. As on “The Monk Is Back” images are conjured of frenetic folk dancing (other sources suggest that the piece is, in fact, a tarantella) or maybe fairground music. The sheer joyous abandonment combined with astonishing technique can’t fail to impress.
“The Gambling Queen” represent the group at their most cinematic, parts of it are achingly sad with the melancholy timbre of Smart’s cello setting the emotional mood. The use of repeated motifs in the second part of the tune recalls both Reich and Minardi’s acknowledged admiration for E.S.T.
The closing “Dirty Clown” inhabits similar emotional territory and actually incorporates a funeral march. The track also offers us the opportunity to hear Pini briefly stepping out from his selfless supporting role. In the latter stages of the tune the inventive Minardi transforms the funeral dirge into something altogether more celebratory, again alluding subtly to E.S.T.
The Cook etc.” is a highly rewarding album full of clever musical ideas. Minardi fuses musical styles seamlessly and his technique on an often unfashionable instrument is frequently astonishing. He also invests the instrument with considerable emotional impact on the slower, moodier numbers, dovetailing well with the more obvious melancholic timbres of Smart’s cello. Both drummers add wit and colour to the proceedings with Pini the proverbial rock.
I’ll admit that the accordion isn’t always my favourite instrument, particularly in a jazz context but in Minardi’s genre bending hands it sounds great. This is probably one of the most enjoyable “jazz” accordion records I’ve heard, to these ears better than some by more established names such as Richard Galliano. Repeated listenings reveal hidden depths, a good thing for virtually any record.blog comments powered by Disqus