It's not the snappiest album title ever, but The Cook, The Clown, The Monk And The Accordionist, by the UK-based Italian musician Maurizio Minardi, is one snappy album. This is a standout recording, full of atmospheric music that combines immediately engaging hooks with sweeping narrative and emotional depth.
Minardi's My Piano Trio (Belfagor Label, 2012) mixed jazz and European classical influences with great success. Minardi used two different trio lineups, one of which included bassist Nick Pini and drummer Jason Reeve who both feature on The Cook, The Clown, The Monk And The Accordionist. On this album Minardi favors the accordionthe piano is present but rarely makes any real impressioncombining the instrument on the front line with Shirley Smart's cello.
Minardi draws on influences as diverse as latin, jazz, contemporary classical and folk musics. His love of short, repetitive, phrases to set moods and create tension is reminiscent of Michael Nyman's work: the resulting tunes range from the humorous to the mysterious to the romantic.
"Penguin" waddles along joyously, no sense of chilly southern climes to spoil the feelgood factor. The titular bird seems to be strolling on the boulevards of fin-de-siecle Paris, popping into the occasional bar to share an absinthe with Toulouse Lautrec or Edgar Degas. Either that, or it's a celebration of one of the UK's favorite chocolate biscuits. Smart's cello is the highlight of "Five Is Better Than Four," a lovely, sensual, tune: "Marcello" resembles Astor Piazzolla's "Libertango" in its seductive rhythm, but the combination of accordion and cello gives it a melancholy edge.
The strong narrative of the "Monk Trio"if it can be referred to in that waytells an enigmatic tale. "The Monk's Escape" is split between furtive, nervous, movement and high drama as the escapee breaks out of his (unidentified) prison. "The Monk Abandoned" projects a genuine loneliness with Minardi and Smart both contributing strongly to this melancholy sensation. Finally "The Monk Is Back," in a suitably triumphant mood, Marco Quarantotto 's drums and Minardi's stabbing accordion phrases communicating the monk's relief. Then there's "The Cook In Love," a persistently jolly tune that defies any attempt to remain uncheered thanks to Minardi's upbeat accordion and Reeve's shuffle beat.
The Cook, The Clown, The Monk And The Accordionist (the title is a play on Peter Greenaway's 1989 movie The Cook, The Thief, His Wife And Her Lover, for which Nyman composed the score) is an album that impresses with its imaginative scope and ambition. Even better, it impresses with the quality of its tunes, its musicianship and the joyousness of its performances. A pleasure from first note to last.
The Cook In Love; Penguin; The Monk's Escape; The Monk Abandoned; The Monk Is Back; Five Is Better Than Four; The Black Book; Marcello; The Taming Of The Shrew; The Gambling Queen; Dirty Clown.
Maurizio Minardi: accordion, piano; Shirley Smart: cello; Nick Pini: double bass; Jason Reeve: drums (1, 2, 6, 7, 8, 10); Marco Quarantotto: drums (3, 5, 9, 11).