Giovanni Guidi: great jazz pianist and versatile composer

Since its inception 50 years ago, the ECM label has become a haven for great jazz pianists – only last week I wrote about a new album from Craig Taborn and Vijay Iyer. But the label is perhaps especially famous for having promoted a particular kind of piano trio, where bass and percussion carry as much musical weight as the piano, rather than simply providing rhythmic accompaniment. And even if you find the likes of Taborn and Iyer a little too experimental, I’d like to draw your attention to a new release by the Italian pianist and composer Giovanni Guidi who, after making his ECM debut with the Enrico Rava Quintet on 2011’s Tribe, went on to record a couple of excellent albums with with his own trio, featuring bassist Thomas Morgan and percussionist João Lobo. City of Broken Dreams appeared in 2013, This Is the Day in 2015; both impressed me enormously. (I confess I found the subsequent Ida Lupino, a quartet album with different musicians, a little disappointing in comparison. ) Whatever, with the newly released Avec le temps, Guidi has surely made one of his best discs to date.

2604 XAs it happens, the new album is only partly a return to the trio format, since six of the eight tracks see Guidi, Morgan and Lobo augmented by Francesco Bearzatti’s tenor sax and Roberto Cecchetto’s guitar. (All five musicians can be seen in the photo above.) If it’s still the superb interplay between piano, bass and percussion that lies at the heart of the music, the sax and guitar certainly don’t diminish any pleasure to be had from the album; rather, they not only enlarge and embellish Guidi’s characteristically straightforward but richly rewarding themes and motifs, but underline, to some degree, the influence of one of the leader’s musical heroes: Ornette Coleman. For instance, the angular theme that introduces the uptempo No Taxi recalls Ornette’s music pre-Free Jazz; one can almost imagine Guidi’s racing piano solo as it might have been played by Don Cherry’s trumpet, while I am not the first person to have likened Morgan’s near-perfect bass playing to that of the late Charlie Haden. (After a wonderful gig performed by the trio in London a few years ago, I took the opportunity to ask Morgan if he counted Haden among his favourites; unsurprisingly, the reply was, ’Of course’.)

The mid-tempo 15th of August is also Ornette-like, albeit of a slightly later vintage; the long, sinuous, plaintive melody which serves as the starting point for a lovely, tinged-with-melancholy chorale and group improvisation brings to mind an album like Science Fiction, while Cecchetto’s ringing guitar sounds echoes of the Pat Metheny who played with Haden and Dewey Redman on 80/81 or with Coleman himself on Song X. I don’t wish to imply, however, that Avec le temps feels at all derivative. On the contrary, what is most immediately striking about the album is Guidi’s very distinctive brand of lyricism. The opening title track, a version of a poignant love song by chansonnier Léo Ferré, is an achingly beautiful example of the leader’s rapt attention to detail, displaying his capacity to take us by surprise even when every note feels just right in terms of tone, dynamics and its precise logical relationship to every note that precedes or follows it. You can listen to it here.

Giovanni Guidi

The collaborative magic with Morgan and Lobo is as spellbinding as ever, the percussionist adopting a refreshingly light, free approach to pulse and texture (listen out especially for his very subtle cymbal work); but the sax and guitar allow, perhaps, for a more diverse repertoire than on Guidi’s trio outings. Hitherto, he’s tended to specialise in glittering, spacious, swirling slow-tempo pieces often built around motifs and melodies of a disarmingly deceptive, children’s-rhyme-like  simplicity; perhaps the most obvious example of that on the new album is Tomasz, dedicated to the late Mr Stanko. Though that beguiling quality is frequently still to the fore on Avec le temps, new textures and moods are also there to be savoured: the squeaks and squalls of an overblown tenor on the gathering storm that is Postludium and a Kiss; the bejewelled, mournful, troubled nocturne of Caino; or the bluesy folksiness of Ti Stimo, faintly evocative of vintage Frisell, Motian and Lovano. In short, while Avec le temps is still, very clearly, the work of the trio that gave us the delicious City of Broken Dreams and This Is the Day, it also marks a welcome step forwards into new territory. 

It’s possible to find Guidi playing in various formats on YouTube. You can find him solo, in a quintet (where the opening number demonstates the Coleman influence), or in an earlier trio with Lobo and bassist Francesco Ponticelli, which I’ve posted below. And you can hear brief excerpts from each track on the new album here. Happy explorations!

Avec le temps was released by ECM on 22nd March. Most of Guidi’s albums are available on that label, though you may also be able to obtain two very impressive earlier albums – Indian Summer (2007) and We Don’t Live Here Anymore (2011) – made for Italy’s CAM label. Both portrait photos above are by Clément Puig, courtesy of ECM.

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