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Francesco Turrisi: In Pursuit of Ecstasy

By Published: September 27, 2011
Three traditional Italian pieces mark the midpoint and bookend the pieces on Fotografia. "Alla Carpinese" is an episodic piece which highlights Turrisi's lightness of touch, whereas "Attaccati li Tricci I" and "Attaccati li Tricci II" feature lovely, tumbling Arabesque lines. These traditional pieces are inspired by Italian singer Pino di Vittorio's interpretations: "He's a bit of a legendary character from the Neapolitan area," says Turrisi of di Vittorio. "He was one of the first to approach traditional music using the original instruments, taking these songs and refining them. I have always felt a great connection with the way he sings but also with the repertoire he sings. If you hear a field recording of 'Attaccati li Tricci,' it's hardly recognizable as a melody, but he refined it. The songs that he sings become very much his songs."

Turrisi first came across di Vittorio through L'Arpeggiata, the renowned early-music ensemble led by Cristina Pluhar, with which Turrisi has played and recorded for a number of years. Pino di Vittorio had collaborated with L'Arpeggiata prior to Turrisi joining the ensemble, though his songs remained in its repertoire: "Even though the singers changed, I played those tunes a lot, and they are tunes I know very well. Both 'Alla Carpinese' and 'Attaccati li Tricci' are tunes that I really like, and I always play them in different contexts." "Attaccati li Tricci II" ends after six minutes, followed by three minutes of silence, suddenly shattered by Turrisi's rather hectic piano, which returns with a vengeance. It's an unusual coda to say the least: "It wasn't a mistake," says Turrisi, laughing. "It's a kind of a ghost track. I don't know exactly what I wanted to say with that. It was something from another pensierini, almost like a little afterthought."

Recorded in just a day and a half, Fotografia has a resulting free spirit to its playing, though composition and improvisation appear to be almost one and the same thing: "People often ask me if I compose, and I don't dare to say that I do because I don't write a lot of notes, especially in a trio format," Turrisi states. "My compositions are just an excuse for improvising. I feel that at the end of the day, I am more an improviser than a composer. Most of the tunes I have written are simple melodic stuff, and I never really write drum parts or bass parts."

Turrisi's love of improvisation and melody means that rhythm plays a less overtly structured role on it than in most jazz trios, but it is nevertheless an important component in his music: "It's true that I'm attracted to melodic stuff, but I love rhythm as well; it just so happens I always end up playing things that are vaguely rubato. I studied percussion, and really love rhythm. Sometimes I wish I could do more, but the things I end up doing best are non-rhythmical stuff."

As on Si Dolce e il Tormento, a lot of the music on Fotografia has a baroque feel to it, but the music of the 17th century came to Turrisi late in life: "I discovered it entirely when I was in Holland, where I studied in the Royal Conservatory. They have a very big early music department—one of the biggest in the world, actually. I think the first time I got involved was when a singer who was working on 17th-century repertoire, like Monteverdi, asked for some help with the language," says Turrisi. "I've always been interested in the poetry that music has. Most of the time it refers to the old Italian language of [Renaissance poet/humanist, Francesco] Petrarca, so 14th- and 15th-century stuff. I was fascinated by the poetry first and then by the beauty of the music, because there's some incredibly beautiful music. In Italy, though, it's not really that popular. Early music is more popular in France, Holland, Germany and northern European countries. In Italy, classical music is much more popular, and everybody's into the romantic stuff, and that's a paradox because most of the music comes from that period."

From there, Turrisi gravitated to the harpsichord: "It sounds really modern to our ears, going from modal Renaissance to early tonality," he says. "There's a lot of interesting harmonic stuff going on and really amazing, beautiful melodies and complex harmonies. I suppose melody is really what attracted me to that music. The track 'Si Dolce e il Tormento' is really like a pop song and could have been written ten years ago; the way the melody and the harmony moves, it's like a pop song." Turrisi was sufficiently smitten by early music to decide to do further studies besides his Masters degree in jazz piano: "I did a bit of research into 17th-century Italian keyboard improvisation. I was very attracted to it because the music was clearly improvised at the time in a very similar way jazz is. The musical language is very different, but the mentality is very similar."

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