Saturday, February 22, 2014

Piano Beauty

Two new piano-based CDs that I received this past week and am enjoying immensely.

Antonio Zambrini and Rita Marcotulli, "La Concersazione" (Abeat 2013) is just that, a conversation between two outstanding pianists that has it all -- dynamic play, beautiful melodies, passion and romance -- in a set of eleven pieces, two of which are solos, one each by Marcotulli and Zambrini. Neither pianist is well known here in the U.S., having mostly recorded on European labels not easily purchased here.

I bought this CD because I have recently discovered Marcotulli (b 1959, Rome), first as the pianist on the Sal Nistico recording "Empty Room" (RED 1988) and subsequently with Dewey Redman "In London" (Palmetto 1996). In looking into her background and catalogue I found that she has a long record of working with outstanding players like Enrico Rava, Joe Henderson, Joe Lovano, Kenny Wheeler, and Pat Metheny; and impressive discography with some of them and as a leader. I  purchased and am enjoying "The Woman Next Door" (Label Bleu 1998) and her recording from Jazz Italiano in 2009.

Antonio Zambrini (b Milan) is a new name for me, a pianist who has recorded on Splasc(H) and Abeat since 1998 and has a listing of about a dozen CDs in that time. Among others, Zambrini has performed with Lee Konitz, Enrico Rava, Hamid Drake, and Ben Allison. 

Zambrini is a well-known composer whose works have been recorded by the likes of Lee Konitz, Stefano Bollani, and John Law, and he contributed six originals to this recording. Marcotulli solos on one song that she composed, and the remaining four include a solo by Zambrini on "Giant Steps", and the duo playing "Beatriz" by Edu Lobo and Chico de Hollanda, "Canto Triste" also by Lobo but with Vinicius De Moraes, "and "Here's to that Rainy Day" by Jimmy Van Heusen. 

The entire program is delicious to hear, passionate and lyrical, at times Latin-inflected, and always beautiful. The reading of "Giant Steps" is one highlight, a reading different from any I have listened to before, but there are many others on which the two are totally in sync and playing from their hearts. This is gorgeous music and highly recommended.  Time for me to sample other CDs by Zambrini. 

The second recording will not be released until April and I do not have a picture of it to show, but I cannot wait that long to praise it and recommend it highly to you when it appears. The North, "Slow Down (This isn't the Mainland)" (Dowsett Records 2014) is simply one of the best piano trio recordings I have come across in the past year or so. The group is Romain Collin on piano, Shawn Conley on bass, and Abe Lagrimas Jr. on drums. I have the fabulous 2012 CD by Collin "The Calling" (Palmetto 2012) and this is equally good if not even better. It features four tracks by Collin, two by Conley, and and four covers. 

The North - Romain Collin, Shawn Conley and Abe Lagrimas, Jr.
This is one of these recordings where I run out of adjectives to describe the music and find myself repeating the same ones -- lyrical, melodious, elegant, flowing, controlled, et al. It also features a true partnership among the players, with each critical to the total sound, and each having significant lead parts that drive a particular song or section of a song. Right from the first song, "Great  Ocean Road" which was written by Collin it's clear this is going to be an exceptionally beautiful recording. The opening has a dreamy  piano meoldy playing over a pressing snare drum, and then goes into a beautiful and impressionistic tune that gradually picks up in tempo and dynamics, then cuts and returns to the opening bars at it closes. It's a great opener that shows all of the group's qualities -- great lyrical flowing songs tightly played by a collective, a range of emotional settings, and quality play on each instrument. From that point on we have "Slow Down" also by Collin, a simple melody elegantly played at mid-tempo with a strong and interesting drum support and a solid moving bass line; Chick Corea's "Humpty Dumpty" with the bass stepping out and bowing some strong lines; a lovely and flowing ""Dowsett Avenue" again by Collin; a very Monkish Monk piece "Light Blue" with a great bass solo; a hauntingly beautiful "Blowin' in the Wind" by Bob Dylan; and then a wow finish with Collin's quiet and romantic "Stay With Me" which is a solo piece for just the piano that left me wanting more. 



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