Francesco Turrisi: In Pursuit of Ecstasy
While still at the Conservatory at The Hague, Turrisi was invited to join Christina Pluhar's L'Arpeggiata. Pluhar was teaching in The Hague at the time, and her attention was soon drawn to Turrisi: "I was running a bit of an early music jam session at the time," Turrisi says, laughing at the thought, "getting all the early music people together once a week to improvise on these bass lines, like they did back in the day. So one of Christina's students came to the class, we met, and she asked me to join the group."
Turrisi's baptism of fire came immediately upon graduating from the Hague: "It was a bit crazy," he recalls, "because the first gig I did with them was in Paris for the launch of the CD All'Improvviso (Alpha Productions. 2004). It's a jazz/early music collaboration with the great Italian clarinetist Gianluigi Trovesi. I was playing harpsichord in a theater in Paris with Gianluigi Trovesi, and I thought, 'How did I get here?'" Turrisi laughs at the memory, but he has no doubt as to the importance of his involvement with L'Arpeggiata: "For me, that group has been huge. I think a lot of my musical concept comes unconsciously out of that experience. Christina [Pluhar] has a very strong musical concept in the way she programs the music, and she has a very strong ear for sound, which is something I think that a lot of jazz musicians don't have at allthe taste for sound. That's something that I've learned from 17th-century musicputting certain musical instruments together and experimenting with combinations of sound."
Clearly, Turrisi has absorbed these lessons, as evidenced on Si Dolce e il Tormento where he partnered Richard Sweeney on theorbo with Brendan Doyle's clarinet to great effect, alongside the rhythm section of bassist Dan Bodwell and drummer Sean Carpio. The theorbo has a beautiful, rich sound that elevates "Passacaglia" and "Lamento di Paulo e Francesca." Turrisi is enamored with the instrument's sound and obviously desires to further explore its possibilities in a modern context: "It's an incredible instrument. I'm still waiting to find a jazz guitarist who wants to embrace some of those early instruments and play some amazing music. I imagine [guitarist] Ralph Towner playing those instruments. I think it would be incredible. Those instruments are so rich and warm."
L'Arpeggiata has not only introduced Turrisi to a new way of thinking about music, but it has also given him the opportunity to tour the world and play with a host of musicians from various genres of music, including flamenco guitarist Pepe el Habichuela, who recorded Los Impossibiles (Naïve, 2009) with L'Arpeggiatta. It was a memorable experience on a number of different levels, as Turrisi recalls: "It was great because he's a legendary character. There are so many anecdotes from that session because he came with his son Josemi Carmona, another great flamenco guitarist as interpreter, linguistically and musically. We were recording in this church, and he wanted to smoke and drink while recording. There was no way of convincing him that he couldn't smoke or drink in the church," laughs Turrisi, "and there was a lot of that kind of stuff."
"You can imaginethese guys come from a very strong musical tradition. Flamenco musicians are incredibly skilled, but they can only do their thing, really. Christina [Pluhar] would say, 'You have to play three bars, and then you play four and a half bars,' and Pepe was like, 'Bars? What?'" remembers Turrisi, laughing. "It's very hard to convince them to do something else, so it was bit hard to communicate, but it was great to be exposed to the way they make music, which is incredible. It was a great experience, and he was actually a very sweet guy."
Turrisi's tenure in L'Arpeggiata has taken him the length and breadth of Europe and beyond. There are over a hundred early-music festivals spread throughout Europe, and in China and North and South America as well, though as Turrisi points out, the revival of early music is essentially a European development: "It was a movement which started in Holland, I believe. It was a kind of a hippie thing; it was an anti-classical music/establishment thing. A lot of people were tired of the elite classical music and really just tried to go back to older instruments."