Art galleries can be good places to listen to creative music, and the small Rosenfeld Porcini gallery in London — in Fitzrovia, actually, with entrances in Rathbone Street and Newman Street — provided a near-perfect environment for last night’s concert by the trio of the young Italian pianist Giovanni Guidi, who has yet to become well known but is one of the most interesting musicians on the current European jazz scene.
Along with the American bassist Thomas Morgan and the Portuguese drummer João Lobo, Guidi was celebrating the release of This Is the Day, the trio’s second album for ECM. On its cover is a painting by the French artist Emmanuel Barcilon, who exhibits at Rosenfeld Porcini. Over the last couple of years Guidi has twice given solo recitals at the gallery, but this was the first time the trio has been heard in the UK.
The album is a thing of great beauty (as was its predecessor, City of Broken Dreams, which made my best-of-2013 list), displaying three musicians bringing new thoughts to a familiar format. While Guidi applies his restrained yet ardent lyricism and super-refined touch to melodies that sometimes resemble children’s hymns and to improvisations that drift and reshape themselves like high clouds, Morgan and Lobo provide something more than commentary. These are three-way conversations conducted with a wonderful collective sense of space. The drummer occasionally intervenes to spike the mood of romanticism with the astringency of scraped cymbals or dry rattling sounds. The bassist provides a running counterpoint that can move gently into the foreground.
But, as so often, live performance brought the music fully to life, allowing them to enhance the gorgeous cadences of Guidi compositions such as “Where They’d Lived” and “The Night It Rained Forever” and to dwell on the quiet sensuality of their version of the old favourite “Quizás, Quizás, Quizás”, written in the 1940s by the Cuban songwriter Osvaldo Farrés.
This was the second time I’ve seen Thomas Morgan play live (the first was with Tomasz Stanko’s quartet two years ago) and it confirmed the first impression that he is a genuinely original musician. Over the last three or four years he’s become virtually ECM’s house bassist, turning in discreetly outstanding performances on albums by Masabumi Kikuchi, Enrico Rava, John Abercrombie, David Virelles, Craig Taborn and Jakob Bro, but Guidi’s group offers him the ideal environment for the full expression of his special gift.
On the face of it, he is a member of a generation of jazz bassists who’ve moved away from the ideal of technical virtuosity embodied by Scott LaFaro and Ron Carter, two great players whose influence became, through no fault of their own, overbearing and destructive. Now we hear more from bassists like Larry Grenadier — a member of Brad Mehldau’s trio for the past 20 years — and Olie Brice, who take their cue instead from the likes of Wilbur Ware and Charlie Haden and seem to believe that playing as fast and high as possible is not necessarily a desirable ambition. Morgan belongs in that camp, but he has something very different.
Born in California 1981, a graduate of the Manhattan School of Music, he has the air of a shy schoolboy who is still in the early stages of learning his instrument. If you watched him through soundproof glass, you would think that his playing was awkward, diffident, even indecisive. His fingers shape themselves for a note or a phrase, hover over the strings, and then appear to change their mind. Remove that glass and you discover that his note choices, while unpredictable and surprising, are almost always perfect. He has a lovely command of tone: the true sound of the instrument, beautifully shaded, full of humanity. If a note doesn’t need to be played, you can see him deciding to leave it out. His combination of resolute modesty and emotional directness will inevitably remind listeners of Haden, but it comes from a different and very intriguing place.
This Is The Day offers the best possible showcase for his qualities, but it works so well only because this is a balanced trio in which the parts function together perfectly, the individual contributions shining all the brighter for the richness of the interplay. Much of the music is played in tempo rubato, free of strict time, swelling and receding with a collective instinct for pulse and flow; there was one busy passage, however, in which they seemed to be hurtling forward together in metred time, and you had to listen hard to discover that this was a brilliant illusion.
Last night’s performance was the final date of a short European tour. The sustained warmth of the London audience’s response, which seemed to surprise and delight them (and led to a perfect encore with a dead-slow version of “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You”), can only have encouraged them to continue their remarkable work together.
* The photograph of the Giovanni Guidi Trio is from the insert of This Is the Day, and was taken by Caterina di Perri.