Maria Chiara Argirò – Hidden Seas
(Cavalo Records. CD Review by Adrian Pallant)
Pianist and composer Maria Chiara Argirò’s 2017 album The Fall Dance arrived like a bolt out of the blue – an unexpected, emotional swirl from a sextet featuring the striking vocalisations of Leïla Martial. Now, follow-up release Hidden Seas – with the same personnel, completed by saxophonist/clarinettist Sam Rapley, electric/acoustic guitarist Tal Janes, double bassist Andrea Di Biase and drummer/percussionist Gaspar Sena – takes a particularly pelagic theme, allowing Argirò’s imaginative, often driving artistry to swim freely. Indeed, she previously described how ideas come to her in the night (a recording device close at hand), then waking in the morning with complete clarity on how to score what had arrived in her subconsciousness or moments of waking.
Early previews of this music were presented at 2018’s Manchester Jazz Festival. There, Martial’s absence was conspicuous; and the vocalist’s own, wildly experimental albums can be challenging. But together, they achieve a distinct chemistry, appearing to spark off each others’ directional changes and oblique, improvised expressions. Add to that the emotional swell of an empathetic, totally integrated band (no passengers) and this 46-minute sea journey is just as engaging as that original debut dance.
A blend of song, instrumental jazz and prog rock (the latter emphasised by Argirò’s augmentation with synths and evocative mellotron) is present in the opening push-pull of Beneath the Surface before Nautilus (Jules Verne’s fictional sub) traverses the ocean floor. Here, an effective fluidity is shared between smooth wordless vocals and tenor sax as sprightly rhythms intertwine with pearlescent piano ostinati and darting synths. Argirò’s careful, pictorial mastery of arrangement and sound-layering is evident, throughout; and Sea Song’s faded, romantic yearning (with music-hall piano tune reminiscent of Peter Gabriel’s more intimate miniatures) is accentuated by seagull-like evocations from Martial.
Motion is at the heart of Argirò’s creativity, from the Jamiroquai-soul Rhodes ornamentation and tremulant synth of From One Land to Another, through subaqueous electronics in The Water Oath, to an acoustic guitar charm (redolent of Steve Hackett) that supports songwriter Jamie Doe’s lyrics in To the Sea. Boisterous Watery Universe ripples with memorable vocal/instrumental hooks, giving rise to Martial’s theatrical, megaphone-toned ‘hysterics’, while Starlight’s arco bass and synth stillness paints galaxies and meteors across elegant broken piano chords. A rocky, shifting progression characterises Wandering Iceberg, ramped-up further in closing finale, Ocean.
Maria Chiara Argirò’s sound world straddles genres – imaginably just as at home on BBC 6 Music or in soundtrack as on the jazz bandstand – with a sense of exploration which intrigues as to where she and her band might next venture. Right now, though, there’s much to absorb in the prismatic wonderland of Hidden Seas.
Hidden Seas is released on 27 September 2019.