Francesco Turrisi: In Pursuit of Ecstasy
Seven trio improvisations from that day in the studio form the backbone of Fotografia, but at the time Turrisi felt they were insufficient to warrant a CD. A year passed by, and Turrisi decided to venture back into the studio to see if some additional solo pieces might provide the missing parts of the picture. "It was a challenge to combine all the sounds and see if it made sense from beginning to end," says Turrisi. "The main idea at the end is that we have the alternation between melodic songssome of which are my own songs, and traditional Italian tunes which I always playand highly improvised sketches." The improvised trio pieces, called pensierini (Italian for little thoughts), are a nod to the Italian childhood tradition of writing short essays on a given theme. The baroque bass line, ciaccona, provides the form around which these improvisations take place, and in this regard reflects a similar approach taken on Si Dolce e il Tormento. For Turrisi, however, the similarities between his first CD and this one are superficial: "Si Dolce e il Tormento was much more preconceived and something that I had worked on for a few years. This one was just a snapshot of what happened after one and a half days in the studio."
The titles of the improvised pensierini, translate from the Italian as: "I Am the Shadow Man," "Remorse," "In a Thousand Pieces," "Towards the Depths," "Ants," and "The Ghost Lake," and they reflect the impressionistic, somber tone of these pieces. "We were just messing with the [baroque] bass line ciaccona," explains Turrisi. "The bass line is very open; we started messing with it and Claus [Kaarsgaard] came out with some crazy stuff. I thought, 'Jesus Christ! This is really spooky.' I hadn't said anything about what it should sound like; we just played. My only instruction was to try and keep the pieces short. Later on when I listened to them and imagined what they could be, I gave them really spooky titles."
Interspersed among these trio improvisations are melodic folk tunes from Turrisi's native Italy, a beautiful interpretation of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Luiza," and several Turrisi originals notable for their lyrical depth. The contrast between the completely improvised and the more melodic, form-based tunes in a way defines Turrisi's approach to the piano trio: "I'm very interested in two main aspects of music: one is music which has a lot of energy, and the other is beautysomething which has a beautiful melody but which is quite simple. I like the juxtaposition between the two," says Turrisi. "I'm not sure if it's always a conscious thing, but I observe that this is the pattern that very often the music follows in a lot of my themes."
Bassist Kaarsgaard and drummer Lobo excel on the trio pieces, bringing inventiveness and an energy that clearly inspired the leader. Turrisi is enthusiastic in his praise of his trio colleagues: "They are good at finding stuff without me telling them what to do, and they make me sound different. Claus [Kaarsgaard] is very quick and has incredible ears. He gives you a lot as well. A lot of bass players are waiting for you- -especially if you're a pianist, they try to follow youbut you give Claus one second of freedom, and he blows you somewhere else. It was very interesting playing with Claus, who is a very active bassist compared to bassists in Ireland, and maybe it had the reaction of making me feel like playing less. I am very attracted, from a conceptual and aesthetic point of view, to music that has a lot less than what I do; I'd like to be able to do less. I listen to a lot of ECM-type music, and I always feel jealous of people who can say a lot with just a couple of notes. I don't think I can do it because I don't think it's in my personality. I have to make a big effort to try and play less, and in a way I'm trying to go more and more in that direction."
Drummer Lobo also made a big impression on Turrisi: "João [Lobo] is an incredible colorist. I had to get up sometimes and see what he was doing because I couldn't believe the sounds and colors he was getting out of his drums. Not every drummer is capable of that, of not necessarily playing with you, but sometimes against you. If I'm playing a certain rhythm, he'll come up with something that is really out. He uses the drums as a melodic instrument as much as everybody else." Playing live with Kaarsgaard and Lobo with singer Emilie Conway was an experience, as Turrisi recalls, laughing: "It was quite challenging, and I was a bit scared at the beginning when we were doing some gigs because it was pretty straight-ahead stuff, and we were all over the place. The singer was going, 'Guys, can you please play straight-ahead chords and cues?' It's like a roller coaster for me playing with them. You never know what's going to happen next, and that's the fun part."