CD reviews

CD REVIEW: Francesco Turrisi – Northern Migrations

Francesco Turrisi – Northern Migrations
(Taquin Records / TAQCD004. CD review by Adrian Pallant)

The name of pianist Francesco Turrisi has graced many a fine recording. As well as collaborating with artists including saxophonist Dave Liebman and vocalists Bobby McFerrin and Maria Pia de Vito, he has produced a number of his own albums as leader (2014’s Grigio especially memorable) and is a mainstay of Christina Pluhar’s visionary early music ensemble L’Arpeggiata (reviewed) .

Turin-born and Dublin-based Turrisi’s debut solo piano venture is entitled Northern Migrations, reflecting a recurring theme in the life of his family, especially his own ten-year journey from the Mediterranean through to his studies at the Netherlands’ Royal Conservatory of The Hague before settling in Ireland. The pianist’s creative ability to traverse genres and cultures is his distinction, so it’s fascinating to hear this, in maybe its most transparent form, through a personal and frequently emotionally-laden collection of compositions, arrangements and improvisations.

Deep reflection is the prevailing aura as Turrisi shapes this mostly original music with songlike purity, pellucid Italian inflection, cogitative passion; and focus is required from the listener to engage with – and respond to, in their own way – such a nuanced blend of jazz, folk and classical music. Sleeve notes explain both the intended live rawness and specific piano tuning system involved in the capture of the thirteen entire takes at Ballytobin’s now-closed Castalia Hall, as well as including insightful manuscript snapshots of each.

Mi Mariposa Hermosa tenderly flits around descending bass lines, its gossamer ornamentation later finding a greater strength, whilst Passacalio’s Spanish delicacy also hints at Purcellian lament (its composer, Biagio Marini, also of the 17th century); and the melodic prettiness/wistfulness of On the Fourteenth Day also displays Turrisi’s improvisational animation. Mesmeric 11/8 title track Northern Migrations is a particular standout, its slow-burning, subtly-jarring progression sustained by accordion, and dynamically enhanced by twinkling high piano notes and the plumbed depths of octave bass. In similar vein, haunting Isole possesses an Einaudi-style lilt. The simplicity of major/minor Ostinato, suggesting soundtrack drama, is buoyed by the quietly-rasping momentum of a frame drum (such interesting timbres might perhaps have been employed further, elsewhere), and in an arrangement of traditional tune Carpinese, Turrisi’s beautiful intricacy almost mimics the sound of a kantele before hitting a heavier, rock groove.

Other discoveries include Toccata Cromatica, based on the type of chromatic harmonic sequences employed by 16th century church organists – delightfully fluid, and very much in Turrisi’s oeuvre. Volo Meglio Solo sails romantically above the clouds, its lush chords breaking into restrained jazz-tinted flamenco. Three restless Taksims seem to express, as impromptus, the album‘s migratory theme; and A Thousand Years Old carries the weight of Italian monochrome screenplay.

Described as ‘an emotional journey through space and time; a distillation of my musical and life experiences’, Northern Migrations is inwardly contemplative and may even have benefited from a little joie de vivre in places. Yet it gets to the heart of Francesco Turrisi’s pianistic integrity – a privilege to experience.

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