|Eric Legnini and Natalie Williams at Pizza Express|
Natalie Williams with the Eric Legnini Trio
(Pizza Express Jazz Club. 15 June 2017. Review by Sebastian Scotney)
Eric Legnini is one of those piano players it is always a joy to hear. He was born in 1970 into an Italian family in Huy near Liege in southern Belgium, and has now been a Paris resident for around 25 years. He only very occasionally pops up in the UK. Last night he was at Pizza Express in Dean Street, with a UK version of a touring project with Natalie Williams which has several dates in France and Belgium. It gave an opportunity to hear him at close quarters playing only Rhodes (the club’s Steinway stayed fully clothed in its black quilt all evening).
For most of the evening, Legnini was in a particular playing zone that he owns completely. It is blissfully unhurried, unflashy, and non-attention-seeking, and yet there is care and thought and balance and rightness in his every touch. What more could any singer or instrumental soloist ever want? In the 1990s he recorded an album with Joe Lovano, where his playing is all about making space for the soloist. And there’s a very short solo interlude from [5:00] to [5:22] on the video below recorded with Natalie Williams in Liege. It is just a moment of calm, a caesura, a slight holding-back to prepare for an ending ‘en gloire’. But it is just necessary and right. ‘Everything is just order and beauty’ as Baudelaire wrote.
It is a deliberate choice he makes, because, as he was just beginning to show by the end of the evening, when he started to scurry and scamper around the keyboard, he also has bucketloads of technique in reserve. His more agile moments were reminiscent of Phineas Newborn, whom he has in the past named as an influence – along with Herbie Hancock and Kenny Kirkland.
The programme last night included songs which Legnini has co-written with two Anglophone singers, Canadian Michelle Willis, and Krystle Warren, which appear on a new album WAXX UP (Anteprima). There were also songs by Williams, a Joni Mitchell Black Crow, and a delightful closing One Day I’ll Fly Away. The touring dates in France and Belgium have been done with Legnini’s regular French players, so Rob Mullarkey and Chris Draper were performing much of the evening’s programme for the first time…completely flawlessly and with character and humour too.
Natalie Williams said how much she had enjoyed finding her bearings in both Warren’s and Willis’s songs, which she sang with total conviction. The Michelle Willis songs in particular tend to have long, low-lying melodic lines. Natalie Williams has opted to leave them in their original keys and they do indeed show off a beautifully darker and deeper side of her voice than is normally to be heard. (More please). For any reader desperately needing a metaphor at this point, I could reach for the Gauloises or the dark chocolate, but somehow Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre seems more fitting to describe the opulence of Williams’ lower register.
This was a hugely enjoyable gig. Audiences at Marciac in France and Dinant in Belgium at the end of July are in for a treat.