Gianmario Liuni

Conversation with Africa

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Italian pianist Gianmario Liuni dishes up a minor gem on Conversation with Africa, on which he displays an acute ear and a brilliant knack for arranging for small ensemble. While he is a good pianist and more aggressive here than in some other settings, his original writing distills the core essence of mood and melodic interplay. Liuni wrote all the pieces except Abdullah Ibrahim's lovely "Ishmael," which fits nicely in the mix as played by the simple rhythm trio. The recording opens with the non-characteristic American-titled piece, "Simple Sound," with its oddly commercial sounds from the vocal ensemble singing in English. Though less effective than it might be, it builds to a climax with the help of swirling, intertwining reeds in a mesmerizing, alluring ambience. The remainder of the album, sans vocals, grasps contra-melodies and diverging combinations of musical instruments to create attractive quilts of sound. Liuni brings out the best for the horns, so that, for example, on "Opportune Divergenze," the saxes seemingly run up and down the scales, oddly disjointed, with a simple yet strangely disturbing ending. "Stasi e Ascensione" features two flutes rubbing noses, while the haunting duo between Liuni and drummer Alessio Pacifico on "Coincidenze" lays down block chords in a mysterious mélange that could have been performed by Monk by way of Ibrahim. What makes it all so satisfying is the broadly consistent African theme coupled with superb written interplay and talented soloists who almost always solo in tandem. Tasteful and satisfying, Liuni brings out the best in his groups, and his tight though ever-changing structures encourage effective simultaneous improvisations. The pulse and rhythmic backdrop are important to the album's success, and both Alessio Pacifico and Elio Marchesini perform their roles effectively. The closing "Alba Africana," with its laid-back marimbas and vibes, is a fitting ending to a programmatic album that is the product of much thought and preparation.

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