Live reviews

Manel Fortià Trio at The Mediterranean Jazz Festival, NYC

(Manel Fortià trio

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(The Mediterranean Jazz Festival, Drom NYC, 21 May 2022. Live review by Dan Bergsagel)

Manel Fortia at Drom. Photo credit : Andreas Arnold

On Saturday night Manel Fortià returned to New York for the launch of his latest album, Despertar.

A set nestled in the middle of the first night of the 5th Mediterranean Jazz Festival at Drom in Alphabet City in the East Village.

I say Fortià’s return, as Despertar is dedicated to the Catalan bassist Manel’s time living in NYC between 2016 and 2020. The meat of the album is sandwiched between opening song Dormir (falling asleep) and closing song and title track Despertar (reawakening); in this sense, Fortià is describing his own personal American dream (read more about the album in Jon Turney’s review – link below).

The trio at Drom featured a different pianist and drummer to the album, and the mix of live energy and new blood gave the set a slightly different sound and urgency than the recordings.

Circular, an ode to the slightly confusing internal airport light rail system – one of the most familiar welcoming experiences for European arrivals to the city – was driven by pianist Albert Marquès. Marquès continuously turning and descending melody line, modifying and building, provide a catchy dynamism which the meandering light rail lacks; the combination of bass and keys together bringing the panic of rushing for flights, instead of the frustratingly lazy robotic automation of a train in a loop.

El Día Después is less a song about NYC, but a song about the isolating experience of being in NYC while one’s hometown is under threat. Written after the 2017 Las Ramblas terrorist incident, this is a feeling I remember vividly from the 2007 attacks in London. Fortià’s composition is effective, running through stages of grief through the foil of Vinnie Sperrazza on drums. First, the raw emotion of reaction, all soft hands on toms and bumping cymbals; then a subdued recovery, delicately progressing through brushwork; finally, the sharp snap of sticks.

All three become primarily percussive on Simple, written in honour of a venue in Jackson Heights that Fortià regularly used to test his new musical ideas. Fortia starts tapping the shoulders of his upright bass, and deep below the bridge. Marquès taps the lid of his piano, Sperrazza is back to soft hands, before a fast groove, piano lines tumbling into themselves, bass resonant. As a closer to the set, Simple becomes a long many-legged piece evolved from the 5-minute album track into a 15-minute romp.

While built around a handful of songs from Despertar, the set was much more than a rote album playback; the new trio opened with a piece for bass icon and Fortià inspiration Charlie Haden, and dove into a multifaceted reimagining of Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi, however very much channelling her late 70s jazz collaboration period with Mingus, Herbie Hancock, and crucially here for bass player Fortià – Jaco Pastorius.

The Mediterranean Jazz Festival is itself an interesting thing, bringing groups together by approximate geographic origin instead of musical culture or genre. Giovanni Mirabassi, playing as part of the first set of the evening inadvertently voiced this to the crowd with his rhetorical question of “if Mediterranean Jazz means something … to you”. Our host, Drom, was a new venue for me: entered through a basement door and low area, it opens up into very high-ceilinged space at the back, mixing photographs of evocative Old-World steeples with flashing advertising screens, and a bustling thoroughfare of performers and organisers moving and chatting in front of the bar.

Like the deep-fried mozzarella sticks on the Drom menu, the Mediterranean Jazz Festival brings Southern European sensibilities to an American palate, with the triumphs and pitfalls associated with some of the necessary translations. Perhaps the geographic net covered by the Mediterranean net is too large, or the aspirations too lofty – the flow of the evening suffering a little from the intrusion of a lengthy on-stage Q&A on the recent book ‘This is the Voice’, directly following two instrumental groups. Now in its fifth edition, the Mediterranean Jazz Festival is still growing. Based on his accomplished performance within it, Manel Fortià has surely come of age.

LINK: Album Review – Despertar by Jon Turney

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