REVIEW: Giovanni Guidi Trio at 2016 Cheltenham Jazz Festival

Giovanni Guidi at Cheltenham
Photo Credit: John Watson / jazzcamera.co.uk

Giovanni Guidi Trio
(Parabola Arts, Cheltenham Jazz Festival 1st May 2016. Review by Luke Davidson)

The body is a lens. Through it we read the strange matters of the mind. And so when we go to concerts, we are apt to look carefully at the performers, looking for clues into where the music is taking them, and signals as to what might be expected in our responses to the music. It is not just what they play, but how they play it. Just occasionally, a performer’s movements are so characterful, or unexpected, that they are like an additional instrument in the room, silent and yet loud with meaning, if only we could interpret it.

That was what I was thinking when I was watching the excellent Giovanni Guidi and his trio last night at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival. In a set largely free of straight-forward grooves, the pianist’s exquisite touch and liquid phrasing was accompanied by extravagant gestures. The single high note played for its resonance stimulated a grand contortion of the right arm. Pulsing musical figures were informed by an almost terrifying lolling of the head, that had it rolled off I would not have been the least surprised. The right knee might extend over the keyboard. A phrase might have both legs locked together, stretched out to the side of the piano, with upper body elongating backwards, as if an invisible deck chair supported it. And during these somatic spasms, the music he produced, the exquisiteness of touch he generated, were completely unaffected; indeed, through his own unconscious choreography, we were led into his musical world, a world of great tenderness and brutal fury, of sparseness and prodigious speeds.

Guidi’s trio, whose second album, This is the Day, came out last year, performs firmly within an ECM idiom. There is a delight in space and sonority, there is great freedom and plentiful nods to the structured harmony of Bach, and there is very little that resembles music from the great American blues-tradition begat by Louis Armstrong, King Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton. The abiding presence is Keith Jarrett, and lovers of Jarrett’s music will find in Guidi’s trio much to enjoy: the gospel touch, the love of the harmonic minor, the savour of the single note. There is original material and wonderfully open interpretations of covers, such as Osvaldo Farrés’ “Quizás, quizás, quizás”, which was a highlight.

L-R: Giovanni Guidi, Nicolai Munch-Hansen, João Lobo
Photo Credit: John Watson / jazzcamera.co.uk
Yet, if the fluid music occasionally found itself touching on rock cliché during a vamp, or – horrors! – having a passing resemblance to the music of Einaudi, it lasted only a millisecond. For the band steers clear of kitsch and free-jazz noodling. Giovanni served up dark, percussive fare, too, that placed the trio in the Europe of the Rite of Spring. It was not all a celebration of melody: indeed, I am not sure I have ever heard so many notes played so quickly during Guidi’s storms. His runs are torrents.

João Lobo, the brilliant Portuguese drummer, produced a harsh, metallic scratching sound through much of a lush cover of ‘I can’t help falling in love with you’: the grit in the pearl. And lest this be not clear: Guidi’s trio gave us music-making of the very highest quality. Nicolai Munch-Hansen, the Danish bassist, layered each piece with a gorgeously, rich and sympathetic sound; Lobo’s percussion was delicate, and sensitive, responding to shifts in dynamic and mood with impeccable taste. Performing in the hinterlands of the Jazz Festival, in the Cheltenham Ladies’ College wonderful Parabola Arts Theatre, the trio gave us a feast of melody and musicianship.

Categories: miscellaneous

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