Album review

Jonathan Gee: ‘Reimagining the Beatles’ and ‘Live in Rome (Villa Celimontana)’

  • Ohisashiburi – Reimagining the Beatles (Verte Records VR20004)

(Album reviews by Mike Collins)

This brace of recent releases from two different bands were recorded 13 years apart, Reimagining the Beatles just before the time of COVID and Live in Rome in 2006.

The connecting thread is London-based pianist Jonathan Gee who occupies the piano chair in both bands. The two sets are the fruit of extended collaborations with different groups of Italian musicians, and these recordings capture a repertoire and group feel that had for both bands evolved through multiple tours and gigs together.

Ohisashiburi, the more recent of the two collaborations, is the name of the quartet that brings Gee together with alto player Gaetano Partipilo and Partipilo’s long time associates Guiseppe Bassi on bass and Fabio Accardi on drums. With an original from Partipilo, two from Gee and a hatful of tunes from the Lennon/McCartney oeuvre, the sound is built around strong, familiar, melodic themes.

Blackbird is a scintillating opener, a bustling pulse with rhythmic hooks pushing the moving harmony along. Here There and Everywhere conjures a more mellow vibe with a similar easy groove before Gee’s own Starfish offers a sharp contrast. A mazy, angular theme, stop start hits and pulsing riffs doubled by bass and piano are a prelude for an atmospheric, probing exploration by Partipilo who shows his mettle as he builds momentum with darting runs and glittering patterns. It’s a full on post bop workout and the band follow him every step of the way. Then it’s a dive back into Lennon/McCartney. Michelle is a meditative waltz, this time Gee unfurling long lines and showing the breadth of his imagination. The theme of Come Together makes an appearance after another dense, absorbing episode. They play us out with Across the Universe, a heartfelt emotional lyricism pervading the soloing, the temptation to sing along with the last chorus proving irresistible for the band, and it feels just right.

This is a fine set with the familiar material mined for musical resources – rich territory for this band to let the strength of those melodies glow whilst imbuing them with a distinctive personality. Harmonic shifts, groove combined with rhythmic flexibility, and fluid and imaginative soloing combine to make this a great listen. The originals provide a welcome seasoning.

Gee Gallo Minetto found the pianist working with bass player Danilo Gallo and drummer Alessandro Minetto. The trio began life as a one-off festival gig and then toured over a number of years. The live recording at the Villa Celimontana showcases material from the album they recorded and captures the energy and variety of a performance.

Originals from the trio are interspersed with a standard or two and, unsurprisingly for Gee who has played some epic Monk-a-thons over the years in the London Jazz Festival, a dose of Monk. Gee, Gallo and Minetto’s compositions bristle with ideas. Gee’s Black Ball and Brown Ball have contrasting feels, the former a pulsating even groove, the latter a skipping swing feel, but both have zig-zagging riffs punctuating angular lines that suddenly flower into little bursts of lyricism. He somehow manages to suggest dense contemporary jazz and an expansive almost folk-like melodic sense at the same time. Drummer Minetto’s Tune for Emanuele has a more austere ambience, exploring a plaintive chanting theme over an insistent stately pulse. The standards repertoire offers a stylistic handbrake turn in the set. In the Wee Small Hours of The Morning has Gee singing the ballad straight with a rhapsodic piano solo. It’s a great moment. Ruby My Dear is a piano solo piece delivered as exuberant stride with some explosive diversions. The set closes with a Gallo ballad that gradually intensifies and builds before they play out on another blistering Gee original Cream of Mandarins. This live set is full of energy and invention and well worth seeking out.

Equally at home burning up on a dense original as rendering a classic ballad, what catches this listener’s ear about Jonathan Gee’s playing is a restless energy and never too distant instinct to trace a fluid, unexpected, melodic line. These two recordings are a welcome reminder of the distinctive character and range of his playing.

Mike Collins is a pianist and writer based in Bath, who runs the jazzyblogman site. Twitter: @jazzyblogman

LINK: Jonathan Gee’s website

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