CD REVIEW: Paolo Fresu, Richard Galliano, Jan Lundgren. Mare Nostrum II

Paolo Fresu, Richard Galliano, Jan Lundgren. Mare Nostrum II
(ACT Music 9812-2. CD review by Adrian Pallant)

It's some nine years since masters of their art Paolo Fresu, Richard Galliano and Jan Lundgren convened to produce their sublime collection, Mare Nostrum, for trumpet/flugelhorn, accordion/bandoneon/accordina and piano. It revealed chamber music of extraordinary empathy and clarity, combining their individual compositions with interpretations of Antônio Carlos Jobim, Charles Trénet and Maurice Ravel.

Releasing again on the ACT label, they’re back – new album Mare Nostrum II (recorded back in 2014) offering more of that finely-crafted Mediterranean magic, and adding Erik Satie and Claudio Monteverdi to another graceful clutch of originals. Their respective musical cultures of Sardinia, France and Sweden once again meld superbly, creating a precious soundscape which has, over the intervening years, given rise to over 150 concerts across some twenty countries. And whilst each of these players’ careers are steeped in the world of contemporary, improvised jazz, this coming-together of European folk, jazz and classical music could easily defy categorisation.

For almost an hour, the mood is tranquil, focused and frequently wistful (perhaps too much on occasion, needing a few more glimmers of buoyancy) – yet the crisp, open detail, full of delicate technical nuances, never wavers from the compelling. Three original compositions from each musician begin to colour this spacious canvas, Fresu’s recognisably high, muted trumpet melodies climbing out of the homely, flowing river of accordion and piano in Apnea; the soft flugelhorn longing of Lundgren’s Blue Silence suggesting shadowy, Gallic movie titles; and with Galliano’s Aurore, a brighter approach is awakened through climbing, major-key phrases and memorable melodies.

Jan Lundgren’s lush jazz chords in E varie notti tre vie notai, enhanced by subtle accordion interjections, provide a perfect ground for writer Fresu’s warm, bluesy flugel. And it’s Galliano once again, in Farväl (farewell), who offers intriguing ornamentation in the form of bittersweet, atonal clusters – a mood which seems to inspire his colleagues' freer extemporisations; never jarring, always attractive. A masterstroke is Richard Galliano’s rhythmic arrangement of one of Erik Satie’s famous piano treasures, Gnossienne No.1, transforming the original’s full-of-rubato languidness into a syncopated, smouldering affair in which Fresu’s muted solo is accentuated by accordion shimmers and clicks.

The brighter aspects of the album certainly encourage a desire for more. Galliano’s elegantly waltzing Lili captures the heart, evoking reflected Riviera lamplight and moonlight, whilst the carefree cosmopolitan bustle of Jan Lundgren’s Leklåt is infectious, its purposeful flugel-led momentum pleasingly suggesting the appeal of ’60s Herb Alpert – and, with dazzling accordion and piano improvisation, it’s quite a stand-out.

Mare Nostrum II’s twelve tracks close with Fresu’s sublime reimagining of Claudio Monteverdi’s Sì Dolce è’l tormento (so sweet the torment… that lies within my heart), colouring this 16/17th Century aria from a completely different palette, and confirming the undoubted immaculacy of this recording.

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