Roger Beaujolais Italian Trio – Barba Lunga
(Stay Tuned ST011 – CD review by Mark McKergow)
Roger Beaujolais’ latest outing sees him joined by a dynamic new Italian duo who urge him on in this energetic and well-honed set. The results are surprisingly gritty and sweaty, engaging and always musically balanced.
Vibesman Beaujolais is clearly a man with growth on his mind, and indeed on his head. Following 2017’s album Sunset where he was joined by a conventional piano-led rhythm section, Beaujolais takes an even more key role as the kingpin in a trio, with only bass and drums alongside him. This kind of line-up is relatively rare in the vibes world, though Gary Burton experimented with it decades ago. I’m sure it’s not the additional responsibility that has led Beaujolais to grow an extravagantly proportioned beard to go along with his trademark ponytail. It’s clearly important though, as it gives the album its title – Barba Lunga means ‘long beard’ in Italian.
The Italian dimension of the band is Alessandro Pivi (drums) and Giocomo Dominici (electric and double bass). Pivi has performed with Beaujolais on previous UK tours and plays a key part here, his busy and imaginative drums and percussion are always stretching the musical envelope. With a trio there is absolutely no room for passengers, and Dominici shows himself adept on both bass guitar and acoustic double bass throughout.
The delicate sound of the vibraphone is obviously well suited to dreamy floating reflective music, and it’s no surprise that there’s a decent helping of this. Are We There Yet lopes along delightfully, including a nice double bass solo and some mamba-esque percussion breaks. On The Other Hand also gives a nice breathing space towards the end of the album. The surprise – and it was a surprise to me – is the number of fast-flowing, balls-out blowing tracks that the trio tackle. Granita For Anita opens the show, with punchy bass guitar and pulsating drums driving the riffing tune along in fine style. Title track Barba Lunga sees some very sharp malletwork from Beaujolais over a ‘walking’ electric bass line that so fast it’s almost tap-dancing.
Nine of the 11 tracks on the album are Beaujolais originals (though not all new – Benign Tonight featured on Sunset and is given another outing here, with the bass/drum backing making it even more energetic and jumping). Faith, a gospely shouter previously recorded by Art Blakey, is a joyous riot with suitably cracking drum breaks. It is very interesting to find a cover of Jimi Hendrix’ The Wind Cries Mary here, the spacious feel captured beautifully in the theme statement carried by Giacomo Dominici’s double bass.
There’s more Hendrix here than at first appears – Beaujolais quotes in Mr Non PC from Third Stone From The Sun (first heard on Hendrix’ debut album Are You Experienced and later covered by everyone from Dick Dale to Santana). Listening to it again, I can hear a connection between Mitch Mitchell’s drumming with Hendrix’ trio and Alessandro Pivi’s role here, driving things forward while still finding time to go off-piste, elaborate and decorate the music.
All in all this is a very fine record, full of flair and imagination. The album can be purchased via Roger Beaujolais’ website, where there are also links for his gigs. These include an Italian tour in August where you can no doubt hear this line up in a warm ambience with a glass of super red wine in hand. Yes please!
Categories: CD review