Photo credit: Chiara Esposito
“It’s a tip of the hat. Thanks for giving us this inspiration and influence,” says drummer Nick Wight, explaining the concept behind the new album Legacy, that his band, Pericopes+1, will be launching at Pizza Express Jazz Club on 1 May. He spoke to Matthew Wright for LondonJazz News.
The ten original pieces on Legacy were originally conceived when the band – Wight and Italian duo of saxophonist Emiliano Vernizzi and pianist Alessandro Sgobbio – was on the road, touring its last album, These Human Beings, during 2016, and listening to the music of so many musical titans who died during that terrible year.
Travelling the country as they heard the news of the deaths of musicians who’d played centre stage during the band’s musical coming-of-age in the 1980s, from Bobby Hutcherson to Prince and David Bowie, the trio decided that this album would be a tribute to the whole community of music-makers. “There’s definitely some Coltrane in there,” says Wight, “but there’s also a lot of hip-hop, rock, prog and metal, from Pink Floyd to Bowie to Prince. During that tour, so many people we grew up listening to were passing on, and the idea of legacy was important. This release reflects as much a prog/rock/disco influence as it does Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers.”
There were personal musical reasons for a different approach on the new album, too. Although Wight, Vernizzi and Sgobbio are all steeped in the jazz tradition, “we wanted to take this release in a different direction,” Wight explains. “The first album was more acoustic, with a combination of compositional tricks and more open, modal sections. This time we wanted to concentrate on through-composed pieces, more like a prog-rock band. Composed, but still with a spontaneous, improvised sound.”
Sgobbio is the group’s main composer, and most of the new pieces on Legacy are his. “Arrangement has been his focus for every project he’s in,” says Wight. “He has a pure composing voice, and can work as a platform where we can combine all influences. He can include everything; he’s not limited by genre. When we began writing the pieces on Legacy, Alessandro had already worked on some pieces in that style, which he brought to our rehearsals. Emiliano fed off that and wrote some pieces, and occasionally I’ll write down some musical ideas too, and perhaps one will make it onto the album.”
Wight is from New York, but his fellow band members are both Italian, and have played regularly in the duo version of Pericopes since meeting at Parma Conservatory ten years ago. (Pericopes was, and is, well known as a duo in Italy, having won prizes including TopJazz and Umbria Jazz Contest, before they met Nick Wight and became Pericopes+1.) To complicate matters, saxophonist Vernizzi now lives in Paris. This diversity of experience gives the composing process an extra richness, Wight believes. “We’re all on the same page in terms of what we’re listening to, but in terms of what we’re playing in our homes cities, there’s some diversity. As an Italian living in Paris, Emiliano has even more to draw on. There are subtle ways in which international cultural differences come out and are dispersed in the music.”
With time all in the same place at a premium, they make the most of opportunities to explore new music together on the road. “We’ve had opportunities to work on new material on tour, in clubs, the morning after a gig, for example.” They also road-test their new work. “We always want some reaction from the audience,” Wight says. “A head bobbing, or foot tapping. When we don’t get that, we can tell that something’s wrong, or not developed. We can tell which sections of which pieces have worked best from how the audience responds. There’s a piece on this album, Markveien, that just wasn’t clicking with the audience when we played it in our December tour last year, and we changed the dynamics and group interaction and all of a sudden everyone’s foot was tapping.”
Some of the pieces in Legacy were trialled on their previous UK tour, in 2016, when they were also fortunate to have a period as artists in residence at Aberdeen University to workshop some of their new pieces – valuable time, when a trio is spread over three countries and two continents. The group’s road miles make it into the music in other ways, too. The new track Markveien was named after a square in Oslo, while Grossetto was inspired by an ancient Venetian currency, and also (in a slightly different spelling) a town in Tuscany.
With an unusual, bass-less line-up of saxophone, piano and drums, the band’s musical dynamic encourages a quicksilver lyricism. One of the most noticeable features of these new pieces is how quickly the mood and dynamics change. Red Sand Town offers radical shifts in tempo and mood, its frenetic opening yielding to reflective pools of saxophone melody, teased by ripples of rhythm. November Tears sees the trio at its most laid-back, with delicate, floating melody on piano and sax teased by Wight’s brushwork. Zardis, meanwhile, offers bracing stacks of piano chords offset by scurrying sax and a frenetic beat.
The name of the band, easily misread by English fans, has nothing to do with submarines, but means, as Wight explains, “extraction from ancient text”, and originates from the founding of the duo, Pericopes, by Vernizzi and Sgobbio at Parma Conservatory ten years ago. Sgobbio’s project was originally concerned with building contemporary compositions around musical extracts or pericopes from old Italian folk melodies or, for example, Gregorian chant. The ability to craft new music incorporating musical quotations from such diverse traditions gives Pericopes+1 a compelling immediacy that’s postmodern but always lyrical. Wight’s experience as a drummer on the New York scene has brought an extra drive and intensity, he believes: “When we add drums we shift the focus. I bring my influence from being a musician in New York.”
There’s a palpable excitement from the band about their return to the UK, where they have big gigs in London, Birmingham, Manchester, as well as the Ribble Valley Jazz Festival and Jazz North East. Perhaps unusually for a touring band, nearly half the UK dates are in Scotland, where they had such a warm reception last time. “UK and European festivals have a greater appreciation for this type of music. We love playing in the right venues where people are open-minded about new, original music,” says Wight.