MILAN – I don’t know if there is some kind of interesting statistical reason behind this, but two of the most interesting professional musicians that I have met in all of my world travels going to open mics – well, and Grand Prix races – have come through taking the same flight as those exceptional musicians. That said, in each case the meeting was due to me carrying my guitar on my back onto the flight, and that was the connection point that led to conversation. The first meeting was that of Pierre Bensusan, the virtuoso French guitarist – whom I have written about on this blog – and funny enough, I met Bensusan in the airport in Milan as we were about to board the same flight to Paris. The other meeting was with the remarkable Milan-based jazz pianist, Paolo Alderighi. But Paolo and I met not in Milan, but oddly enough, on an Air France flight from Tokyo to Paris. I have maintained relations with each of these musicians over the years, so when I found out that Paolo was performing in a concert in Milan last night, I jumped at the opportunity of attending. And it was all the more special because I knew it would be with his wife, Stephanie Trick, with whom he performs around the world in four-handed piano. What I did not know until I was seated in the concert hall room of the Humaniter Foundation, was that Paolo had also invited for his first public performance his father, Giorgio, who played banjo and harmonica on several numbers…. Trick and Alderighi doing the St. Blues (not in Milan!)
So it was a tremendous family affair at the Humaniter, in this grand hall with its fresco ceilings of religious something or other, and what looked like a crowd of at least 300 spectators. I had seen and heard Paolo and Stephanie’s music in both YouTube videos, and on one of their CDs. But seeing and hearing them perform in public was – like attending a Pierre Bensusan concert – a whole other affair. Stephanie is from the United States, originally from San Francisco, but not a longtime resident of St. Louis, which is one of the cultural homes of the kind of music of which she is a world recognized specialist: stride piano. Paolo Alderighi and his father Giorgio at the Humaniter in Milan
As it turns out, Paolo is also a specialist in stride piano, and so it was perhaps natural – even though the two of them had their own successful careers as soloists – that together Paolo and Stephanie should meet on the level playing field of the four-handed piano. And boy, do they ever meet there. As a husband and wife team, I cannot imagine there have been many other similar acts. And what is absolutely fabulous is not JUST the virtuoso piano playing, but also the fun that they seem to have playing the music. They dart around the piano bench exchanging positions, throwing in different parts to each performance, being playful, appreciative, and expressing their profound delight in the “recreation” with the audience in a way that just cheers the heart of the audience. Paolo Alderighi and Stephanie Trick at the Humaniter in Milan
And that’s to say nothing of the broad cross-section of music, from Gershwin and Cole Porter to The Beatles – with a truly remarkable rendition of “Penny Lane” that enters into a zone close to modern jazz at some point near the end – the music is truly emotional and interesting throughout. The numbers they performed with Paolo’s father, Giorgio, were emotionally touching not only because we knew that it was a family affair, but especially due to his father’s brilliant, melodious and emotional harmonica playing, and his fun banjo strumming. Giorgio was never a professional musician, but if you were in the audience last night you would not have known that – I was wondering if I had had memories of being told that his father played harmonica in sumphony orchestras, film soundtracks, or whatever. But no.
But research shows me that he has lots of experience performing in bands, lots of jazz, and it certainly seemed also that Paolo’s father is something of an expert on American popular music of all kinds. So now I see where at least part of Paolo’s inspiration came from. In any case, the four-handed team of Stephanie Trick and Paolo Alderighi is an unforgettable one, and in music terms, a perfect marriage. No wonder they tour the world – they’re playing in Berne, Switzerland tonight, by the way, if you happen to be there and still have the time to find them….
My apologies for the poor quality of the video image of my Zoom, and I have also discovered that half of the recordings I made have a strange percussive sound that seems to be someone banging on the Zoom. I can only imagine that while I was filming, I was still tapping my foot and sending the beat through my body into the hand on the Zoom. In any case, it is a missed opportunity for some great footage on the new Osmo camera, but that would have been much less subtle than with the Zoom, especially as I sat within the first three rows of the room…. I’m adding another video, that I did not take, to this page to give a better idea of the performance without the bad Zoom image quality and the crackle of the device!
For my ninth “Morning Exercise Rundown,” – the eighth of which ran on 28th June 2014– I am in the unusual situation of having misplaced all of the CDs that I intended to review from the last six months! Yes, having made a recent move, the CDs got misplaced and I have no idea where they are. But since this is possibly the longest period between Morning Exercise rundowns, I decided that I would simply approach this instalment from my memory; That probably means it will be a great instalment because it is made of the stuff that stood out most in my memory over this period. Another slight difference with this rundown is that a lot of the EPs and albums here were listened to online only – not sure why those are the ones I remember too….
The Morning Exercise Music Philosophy
As a reminder to readers, therefore, the idea behind this regular column is that for most of my life I avoided classic daily physical exercise because I felt I was able to avoid it and it bored me to death. In recent years, I had a kind of flash of aged inspiration and realized that I might bore myself to death if I DON’T exercise. (No time in life for exercise? No! No time in life to NOT exercise!) That did not, however, alleviate the boredom of doing them. So it is that when not doing my nighttime exercise of riding my unicycle around the neighborhood – which does NOT bore me – or jogging – which does bore me to a degree – I do my exercises in the morning (sit ups, push ups, etc.) while listening to new (and old) CDs that I acquire from compilations of magazines, that I also occasionally buy or receive from budding musicians at open mics, or any other source.
I do not pretend to be a music critic, but simply to talk about and describe, and give my impressions of the music I listen to during my morning exercises. Keep in mind that my impressions and opinions, therefore, will have been formed while straining to reach a record number of push ups, sit ups, couch ups, stretch downs and simply catching my breath. So maybe my opinion will be warped.
The Haunting Rock ‘n’ Croon of Thomas Arlo
Room EP by Thomas Arlo
Thomas Arlo is a young American expat musician who I have seen for years at the open mics, almost always playing solo with his guitar and his interpretations of cover songs – Beirut, Gainsbourg, others – in a voice part rock and part crooner, as well as his own well-constructed songs. There’s a touch of Elvis in the croon, and a touch of I don’t know what in the rock. But there’s truth to it, and an otherworldliness. In any case, when Thomas sent me the link to the songs of his first EP, called “Room,”I was truly delighted to find five recordings done in the same complete simplicity and purity of his performances at the open mics, but with some tracks having light touches of overdubbing, other musicians and instruments, and the most effective, a duet with Amélie Pagenel. I’d also seen Amélie at the open mics, but when I heard her voice here, I wondered who was this amazing singer. Thomas now seems to have disappeared to live in Greece – without a word, without a trace – but we’ve got his music here wherever else we might be in the world, and I highly recommend it. My two favorite songs are “Bolder of Men,” which is constructed in a similar way to “Sympathy for the Devil,” (and a touch of Dylanesque diction and phrasing) but is amazingly haunting. And then I like the one with Amélie, called “Either Way,” with alternating singing between the two. So go and give a listen to this great Room, by Thomas Arlo.
Paolo Alderighi and the Italian Stride Piano
Paolo Alderighi & Stephanie Trick
A few years ago, while flying from Tokyo back to Paris, I loaded my guitar bag above my seat in the Air France flight, sat down and the young man next to me asked about the guitar. We got into a conversation, and I learned that he was a pianist, Italian, and returning from a concert in Japan. We ended up talking music for most of the night flight, and I even let him hear some of mine. What I learned later was that I had been discussing music with one of Italy’s greatest upcoming jazz pianists on the international scene: Paolo Alderighi. I immediately looked him up on YouTube to hear his music, and found this amazing thing of an Italian playing that distinctive American style of jazz piano known as Stride, that arose in parts of the U.S. in the 1920s and 1930s – notably St. Louis – and that he was highly respected even in the U.S., and around the world. It was only last September that I finally got a couple of his CDs, and had a real good listen. We have met several times in Milan now, when I travel there for the Grand Prix and if he happens to be in town. And since we first met, he has also had a kind of fairy tale meeting with a woman named Stephanie Trick, an American who is a world leader in the stride piano style: The two of them got married, and now in addition to playing concerts separately, they also play together in the magnificent and awe-inspiring “four-hand” mode. So I listened with great self-division as to which thing I preferred: The CD of the two of them together – “Sentimental Journey” – or Paolo’s solo album called “Around Broadway.” The former is full of punch and dazzling fireworks, while the latter takes classic broadway songs – Berline, Gershwin, Rodgers, etc. – as a starting point, and Paolo then flies off into his own bits of interpretation and improvisation. The conclusion? I love both CDs. But I am no expert at all in matters of jazz piano. So how best to describe Paolo’s music? There’s a great description on the liner notes from the respected Michael Steinman: Although some may characterize Paolo Alderighi as “a jazz pianist,” “a fine young musician,” “a gifted improviser,” his true designation is both simpler and more profound. Paolo Alderighi is an artist.
Introducing Juliette Jules – a French Teenager Gone Global
And speaking of fairy tales, one of the more interesting stories – and voices – that I’ve heard recently is that of a 16-year-old French girl named Juliette Jules, who was playing songs on her guitar in a park in Paris a while back when she was overhead by a Canadian music producer. The Canadian approached her, listened, spoke, queried, whatever… and ended up taking Juliette Jules on as an artist, recording her, promoting her, and now the 16-year-old is in the midst of a fully-fledged career beginning, with great reviews from around the world for Juliette’s first EP, “Black Crow,” containing her own songs but also the Leonard Cohen hit, Hallelujah. She has been praised all over for a voice of experience beyond her years, but for me, years never matter: Only the music counts. I first listened with a sceptical ear, as someone who has attended more open mics around the world than most people, and so heard just about every form of talent that exists. (Well, not quite.) But from my immediate first impressions with an obvious comparison to Lana Del Rey, I’m picking up new sounds and impressions every time I listen. There is definitely something rich and interesting in this woman’s voice. I can’t wait to hear her live, and to see where the next batch of recordings will take us (she recorded a new series last summer). Definitely a cool story.
A Progressive 3rdegree Takes Me Back in Time
At the beginning of the era of progressive rock, I was a fan. I listened to bands like Gentle Giant, Genesis, King Crimson, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Van Der Graf Generator, Yes, Pink Floyd, Tangerine Dream, you name it. I loved it at the time because it was progressive rock music. It was taking rock into another future realm, going the next step, beyond the clichés, beyond the blues. It was adding a classical element to rock too, in fact, but in a “progressive”-feeling way. I never lost my interest in those bands, really, even if I listen to them rarely now, and have rarely listened to them for decades. So all of this is to expose my musical ignorance by saying that although I only had the vaguest idea that there was still a genre called progressive rock, it was really only in reciving an invitation to download the latest album of a progressive rock band from the U.S. called 3rdegree, which is well known in American progressive rock circles, did I realize that progressive rock had actually ceased to progress much since the days I listened to it. But that is NOT to denigrate it! In fact, if you listen to the blues, you realize that it is a style of play, and that it is made up of certain themes, styles, chords, etc., and that it has not exactly “developed” either. Great musical styles do not necessarily have to develop. So I was completely amazed when I listened to this band that has been around since 1989 was playing music that I completely understood the basis to, felt was speaking a “progressive rock language” and that I could comfortably say I knew where they were coming from. The album, “The Long Division,” (wait, what was that Pink Floyd album? The Division Bell?) just felt so familiar, yet at once different. I could understand and identify with the riffs, I could expect certain themes, knew where they came from, whatever. It was an acquired language. Now, the only thing I can say about my initial feelings about the name of this genre is that I feel it unfortunate that it was ever named “progressive,” since that indicates to me that it should be like a James Joyce situation where each novel gets totally more crazy and progressive than the next… or am I mixing up the idea of “experimental” music and writing…. Anyway, suffice it to say that I got a lot of exercise out of the Long Division and the computing I did in my head over progressive rock….
And Finally, a New Beautiful Indie Band, Called Forebear
And finally, thanks for having got this far with me, if you did. One of the things that made me get this edition out now, was that just a couple of days ago I received an interesting email via my BradSpurgeonMusic.com site, but referring to this blog, with a few links to the debut EP of an interesting indie band from the U.S. called Forebear, inviting me to download the Forebear EP. I had nothing to listen to for my morning exercises and I immediately downloaded it, and listened. I stopped exercising for a while on a couple of the tracks to listen to the music and lyrics!!! I preferred the slightly slower, more folk-oriented songs – if you can call it folk – and especially loved the guitar on one of the tracks, which reminded me distinctly of the sound of a friend of mine who lives in LA also, and whose 1997 album, “Billy’s Not Bitter,” won an LA Music Award for the best independent album that year. There are some fabulous melodies, I really like the singer’s voice, but that ethereal guitar stuff is the winner. As are some of the lyrics, particularly this one line that really stopped me in my stride: “we are same sides of a different coin/permanently engraved with the year we were born” Just go and check out Forebear’s EP immediately.
Well, that rounds that up. Another, rather large, morning exercise crop of CDs, my ninth edition since I started doing this in April of 2013….