Filomena Campus is a Sardinia-born, London-based jazz singer, theatre director and academic. For the latest in LJN’s series in which musicians write about recordings by their idols or formative influences, Filomena writes about Maria Pia De Vito, who has, she writes, “the rare ability to keep exploring new paths, styles, cultures, always curious about new possibilities, which makes her a continuous discovery and guide.“
Filomena Campus writes:
These tracks are not just part of the music that has accompanied my life in the last twenty-five years. They have been also part of my daily vocal practice, so somehow, they are embodied in my vocality and musicality. One thing which I learnt the very first time I met (and heard) Maria Pia De Vito in Sardinia in the late 90s, is her capacity to use the voice as an instrument, involving the whole body, immediately presenting a serious idea to what it means to be a professional jazz vocalist, away from any patriarchal cliches about jazz singers. In this first track, from an album which the singer herself has described as one of her own favourites, her voice is an instrument which approaches unusual scales, rhythms, and harmonies. When you sing it, sometimes it makes you feel and enjoy music as if you were a vocal acrobat.
- “Voulez-Vous…?” from Phonè
In that first encounter, I got my first CD by De Vito, Fore Paese, which shows how her Neapolitan roots can enrich her vocality. Years later I would explore a similar approach looking at my Sardinian roots and how my voice changes when I sing in Sardinian language, touching ancestral chords.
- “Rumba d’ ‘e scugnizzi” from Fore Paese)
Usually when you are lucky enough to encounter a mentor in the field you love, after a while you move on. De Vito, instead, has the rare ability to keep exploring new paths, styles, cultures, always curious about new possibilities, which makes her a continuous discovery and guide. As in this track where electronic perfectly fits with her vocal improvisation and lyrics.
- Opening Doors (Mind the Gap) Maria Pia De Vito & Songs from the Underground (EmArcy Universal, 2009)
In 1998 and 1999 I attended a vocal workshop with De Vito in Sardinia, where I witnessed her skills both as a vocal tutor in the one-to-one sessions and working with a choir. You can get a feeling of it in this album with her vocal ensemble.
- Voccuccia de no pierzeco (Moresche e alter invenzioni) Maria Pia De Vito, Burnogualà Large Vocal Ensemble
During the years a friendship developed, regardless the distance, as Maria Pia lives in Rome, I live in London, where we met when she came to perform years ago with Colin Towns and Guy Barker, and more recently with the amazing pianist Huw Warren. The risk of being exposed and passionate about a musician is to somehow imitate consciously or unconsciously their sounds or phrasing. Although I think the unconscious or embodied aspect is not easy to control, De Vito however transmits a strong sense of identity, encouraging to develop your own sound, to find and train your own voice, which I totally embrace. I share the same curiosity and passion about other musical cultures, for example Brazilian music. In this album, De Vito has managed to translate and adapt in her beautiful Neapolitan dialect, the lyrics of Brazilian masters such as Chico Buarque.
- ‘O ritorno d”o Jammone (Core) Maria Pia De Vito · Chico Buarque.
The chemistry between De Vito and pianist Huw Warren in this album is inspiring. A duo where piano and voice playfully chase, nurture, and push each other to explore different ways, rhythms, and possibilities. Warren is a well-known incredible piano player I have had the pleasure to perform with in Germany years ago with my quartet. I saw the duo performing at the Vortex before the pandemic, and I do hope to see them again in London.
- And the Kitchen Sink (Diálektos) Maria Pia De Vito, Huw Warren
From the same album Diálektos, this track is another favourite of mine, a composition by Brazilian legend Hermeto Pascoal, Ginca Carioca, with Huw Warren, featuring clarinet player Gabriele Mirabassi. This tune is another excellent vocal acrobatic exercise, which is so much fun to sing. Although it sounds easy when you listen to De Vito, I can assure you it is not. But totally worth the effort.
- Ginca Carioca (Diálektos)
Multiple international collaborations have brought De Vito to work with legendary figures such as John Taylor and Ralph Towner. The way she performs Towner’s Redial in this superb album, is an example of how vocality without words can be extremely powerful, using all sort of syllables and sounds. It reminds me of what Italian philosopher Adriana Cavarero in her book For more than one voice, tells us about the uniqueness of the voice: “the entire history of philosophy is the history of the devocalization of logos, the famous logocentrism is the product of an erasure of the vocal sphere, the universality philosophy aspires to is grounded in the obliteration of voices and, therefore, of the plural uniqueness that vocality as such entails”. De Vito’s vocals here definitely represent a challenge to logocentrsm and a vocal uniqueness statement.
8. Redial (Verso) Maria Pia De Vito, John Taylor, Ralph Towner
This tune by De Vito with long-time collaborator, piano player and composer Rita Marcotulli, is a beautiful encounter of different styles, classical, jazz, folk, improvisation, that grows into an unexpected hypnotic groove.
- Stu core mio (Nauplia) Maria Pia Di Vito, Rita Marcotulli
Another interesting approach is De Vito’s use of loops and electronics, in this case related to singers’ most important aspect: breath, which is Italian is ‘respiro’.
- Nel respiro (Nel Respiro) (2002, Provocateur Records)
This ballad, which features John Taylor on piano, is a lullaby in Neapolitan dialect which shows De Vito’ more contemplative touch and her skills as both lyricist and composer. Elegant and sophisticated.
- Il paradiso dei cacciottielli (Phonè) Maria Pia De Vito feat. John Taylor, Gianluigi Trovesi, Enzo Pietropaoli, Federico Sanesi
LINKS: Maria Pia De Vito’s Facebook page – regularly updated
Filomena Campus’s website / Theatralia Productions
Categories: 10 Tracks I Can't Do Without, Feature/Interview
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