For pianist Francesco Turrisi 'old' music is a redundant term. In the Dublin-based Italian's world all music exists in a continuum. Turrisi's debut, Si Dolce e il Tormento (Diatribe Records, 2009) may be the only example of the mediaeval theorboa long-necked lute in a jazz setting. Fotografia (Diatribe Records, 2011)a series of piano trio improvisationsveered between free-jazz abstraction and Mediterranean and Brazilian blues lyricism. For Songs of Experience (Taquin Records, 2013), Turrisi eschewed bass in favor of Fulvio Sigurtà's trumpet and flugelhorn on highly melodic, minimalist pieces that drew equally from classical and folk traditions. On Grigio, Turrisi adds Italian baroque, traditional Irish and Hebrew song to an already colorful palette.
Common to all Turrisi's recordings to a greater or lesser degree is the baroque/early music vein that runs through his music. The novelty here, however, is Turrisi's employment of a vocalist. Three numbers sung quite beautifully by Clara Sanabras, "Che Si Puo Fare?," "Augellin" and "Canzonette spiritual sopra la nanna" illustrate the melodic strength and lyric depth of seventeenth century Italian laments. Turrisi has played these songs with L'Arpeggiata, but the rhythmic impetus of bassist Dan Bodwell and drummer Sean Carpio combine with Turrisi's tumbling jazz lines to fashion an utterly contemporary frame for music whose themes of love and anguishand the indifference of the worldare timeless.
Three traditional Irish tunes interpreted by sean-nós singer Róisín Elsafty emphasize the universality of the blues. "Elenaor a run," a seventeenth century tune, showcases Elsafty's gorgeous voice, with Turrisi a subtle presence on piano and Ebow. "Sile Beag Ni Chonnallain"'s lament and the haunting lullaby that is "Seoithin Seo" could bring a tear to a hangman's eye. All three songs are on Elsafty's CD Máhíonn tú liom bí liom (Vertical Records, 2007)highly recommended for anyone wishing to dip a toe into traditional Irish song. Turrisi's outfit Tarab blends Irish and world folk music but these tunes with Elsafty are the closest in spirit to the Irish tradition that he's committed to record so far.
Turrisi's unwavering circular motif forms the backbone of the impressionistic title track. Zohar Fresco's frame drum provides a low-key pulse while cellist Kate Ellis and soprano saxophonist Nick Rothboth of Tarabconjure dreamily harmonic lines. Saxophonist John Zorn's "Hadasha" also embarks from an unrelenting piano ostinato, though animalistic cries from cello and saxophone lend an edgier, more abstract ambiance. "Maoz trsur" is a tradional Hebrew song arranged by Roth; from its minimalist piano and bass intro, Fresco's wordless voice is joined by fluttering alto saxophone and subdued cello in gentle, prayer-like union. The simple melodic lines of Turrisi's self-penned "Tu Ridi" bend to a lilting Arabic influence.
Turrisi's piano virtuosity takes a back seat to his deft treatments of folk songs that span a millennium. On the surface, there may seem to be little that unites Italian baroque song with Hebrew hymn or Irish lament, but manifest in Turrisi's arrangements is the essential human spirit common to verse and music across time and cultures. Another striking addition to Turrisi's short but highly impressive discography.
Che si puo fare; Grigio; Eleanor s run; Hadasha; Augellin; Maoz tsur; Sile Beag Ni Chonnallain; Canzonette spiritual sopra la nanna; Tu ridi; Seoithin Seo.
Francesco Turrisi: piano, Ebow (3); Nick Roth: soprano saxophone; Kate Ellis: cello; Dan Bodwell: double bass; Sean Carpio: drums; Clara Sanabras: vocals (1, 5, 8); Róisín Elsafty: vocals (3, 7, 10); Zohar Fresco (frame drums, percussion, vocals (2, 4, 6, 9).
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