Review: KEKKO FORNARELLI TRIO at Pizza Express Dean Street

(Pizza Express Jazz Club, Dean St., Mon 3rd September 2012 – review by Alison Bentley)

Missing e.s.t? Wondering what direction they would have taken? Italian pianist Kekko Fornarelli’s Room of Mirrors CD (Auand Records, 2011) and major European tour takes the jazz/classical/rock mix a step further. The album is his tribute to the late Esbjorn Svensson but the sound is his own.

Despite early acclaim for Fornarelli’s jazz, Room of Mirrors came after a wilderness period of three years, when he left the jazz scene to find out what kind of music he really wanted to play. He returned to his first love- the classical piano he studied at Bari Conservatoire- and his compositions are like classical pieces, with development and recapitulation, rather than head-solo-head. There are taut arrangements and plenty of space for improvisation. He holds images in his mind when writing- the mirror reflections of his experience.

Most of the tunes on the gig were from the album, and each tune had its own emotional world. Some were eerie and melancholic, enhanced by subliminal synth sounds played by Fornarelli, notably in the opening tune Room of Mirrors. His 2008 album, A Frenchman in New York, was a tribute to Michel Petrucciani, and although Fornarelli’s moved away from mainstream jazz, there are still plenty of Petrucciani or Herbie Hancock influences in his improvising.

Fornarelli wanted to get away from virtuosity for its own sake, and he plays vulnerably, with real feeling, as well as a superb pianistic technique. Luca Alemanno’s fine arco bass solo over synth sounds -looped with echo- was like playing in a thunderstorm.

Fornarelli admires the Romantic composers, and The Flavour of Clouds had hints of Beethoven’s Pathétique Sonata, with a bluesy feel, with a strong back beat. Drummer Dario Congedo created a huge, richly-textured sound with brushes -the cymbals’ rivets shimmered. The piano solo over a hip hop groove recalled Jonathan Gee, with his eloquent lyricism and sureness of touch. Dream and Compromise had a dark intensity, an emotional high point, with its far-reaching Rachmaninov-like chords, strong propulsive bass and a drum solo with elements of drum ‘n’ bass.

Time Goes On had a Chopinesque melody, in 6/8 but harmonised in a bitter-sweet melodic minor mode- with a touch of Giant Steps. Fornarelli’s gorgeous solo recalled John Taylor, another jazz pianist influenced by classical composers. Alemanno’s bass solo was melodic and expressive, reaching out to the audience.

New tunes Big Bang Theory and Being in the Moment had rock features (the trio all admire Radiohead) and asymmetrical rhythms- Big Bang Theory was in 10. Fornarelli often solos in the lower part of the piano- he also reinforced the bassist’s lines with his left hand, increasing the intensity of these pieces.

Daily Jungle’s piano intro recalled Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit, before the composition brilliantly fused elements of tango and dubstep. Night Lights, too, combined a strong tune with Dario Congedo’s creative use of electronic drum styles, all played on the kit. The effect was electrifying- tight, edgy rhythms and a sense of longing. Coffee and Cigarettes was an upbeat portrayal of time spent with friends, a carefree funky groove and memorable Jarretty melody, some dubstep-style ‘bass drop’ seconds of silence, and an amazing counterpoint piano solo.

And I can’t stop listening to the CD: a fusion of Romantic classical music, modern jazz and 21st century dance rhythms, played with Italian brio from the heart.

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