CD review

Maria Chiara Argirò + Jamie Leeming – “Flow”

Maria Chiara Argirò + Jamie Leeming – Flow
(Cavalo Records. CD Review by Adrian Pallant)

The dramatic, atmospheric jazz of Italian-born pianist/keyboardist Maria Chiara Argirò has already established itself in two outstanding sextet albums – The Fall Dance and Hidden Seas. But this quite different venture, in duo with inventive guitarist Jamie Leeming (plus guest violinist/violist Elisabeth Flett), has produced a veritable treasure-trove of acoustic/electronic ambience and motion.

Argirò’s own, original work invariably feels driven and impassioned, frequently with an urgent undertow (her creativity has been known to be ignited by nighttime dreamscapes); and in new album Flow, pianist and guitarist have together crafted a stimulating, journeying ten-track sequence readily suggesting natural, spacial panoramas. Present, as ever, are Argirò’s arpeggioed grounds and inquiring melodies. But with Leeming on board, the instrumental and compositional spectrum is diffracted in other directions, too.

An intensifying, acoustic rhythm achieved in oriental-hued Kōsetsu is impressive, realised through intertwined electric guitar, Rhodes and synth; and title track Flow shares this disquieted propulsion as Leeming’s aqueous guitar improvisations, full of pitch-bent and pointillistic imagination, roll across Argirò’s earnest swell. There’s a feeling that the duo have lovingly crafted these structured pieces, and the more wistful episodes such as musical-box tune Fables (hinting at Satie and subtly enhanced by Elisabeth Flett’s strings) are enchanting.

The only cover on the album, of James Blake’s Retrograde, is an inspired and exquisite reworking. With sensitive electronic pulse, its echoic, instrumental calm cleverly denies that the song ever had a vocal lyric, and could easily signal the beginnings of an Argirò/Leeming soundtrack-writing partnership. To further emphasize that notion, Rubik’s returns to the recognisably unsettled world of Argirò’s billowing ostinati and whirligig extemporisations; and Leeming’s octaval electric guitar sound, in exploration of adjacent keys, becomes especially attractive here. Tune No.1 is graceful and free – but Argirò’s seaward longing is never far away, her single-note ‘lighthouse bell’ sounding ahead of a tantalisingly brief funk-groove fade-out. To close, Boo’s Lullaby – a plaintive, whistled piano tune over acoustic guitar accompaniment – offers a berceuse of unspoken, slightly melancholic adoration.

Along off-road cycle trails, these sounds have recently accompanied the wonders of tumbling cumulus, tidal estuary eddies and increasingly amber-stroked landscapes, creating a synergy of momentum and beauty that I’ve found particularly gratifying. A sure indicator of a meaningful, evolving art form.

Released on 16 October at Cavalo Records.

Categories: CD review

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