Thursday, July 23, 2020

Fused names and simpatico artistry of French saxophonist and Italian pianist fuel Spirabassi

Giovanni MIrabassi (left) and Stephane Spira are a compatible duo.
"Improkofiev" is the major work on the new CD of that title representing a meeting of minds between Stephane Spira (whose website provides access to the release) and Giovanni Mirabassi.

The seasoned musicians, a soprano saxophonist and a pianist, respectively,  collaborate with seeming effortlessness in their punning salute to Sergei Prokofiev, specifically drawing upon the Russian composer's First Violin Concerto.

The three-movement suite references the concerto chiefly in its tunefulness and its hints of sentimentality, always a vein accessible to Prokofiev that he used to balance his nose-thumbing sauciness and modernist flair. The near-constant demands on the soloist are not replicated in the jazz suite. The signature spikiness and skill with disjunctive lines characteristic of Prokofiev make the suite's first movement the most satisfying as a tribute. So does the presence of an extra voice, the flugelhorn of Yoann Loustalot.

The remaining two movements of the suite proceed without Loustalot, which detracts from the suite's coherence. Why not keep the second horn player around through "New York Dream"and "No Strings Attached"?

The first four tracks have an individuality and pungency that the suite projects less consistently. The other classical tribute, a perky waltz version of Erik Satie's "Gymnopedie No. 1," is a charmer. The other borrowed piece, Carla Bley's "Lawns," sustains most successfully the Mirabassi-Spira partnership, which is unshakable, with complementary solos, and easily takes in a transition to a Steve Wood bass solo.

Donald Kontomanu's drums start off "After Rain," a piece whose title seems to apply well to the feeling of abandon and freedom that emergence from a drenching spell provides most of us with. It's a great exposition of the quartet's rapport, flowing ahead without looking back once.

The opening "Ocean Dance," which like "After Rain" is a Spira composition, never becomes oceanic in volume; this is not a forceful ensemble. But its variety of motion and glinting playfulness are aspects of the sea to which the clean lines and crystalline tone  of both players in the group's portmanteau name give body and invite the listener to jump in: the water's fine.

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