Piano Four Hands: Paolo and Stephanie Weave Their Magic

Stephanie and Paolo

ALWAYS / Always (Irving Berlin) / Panama (William H. Tyers) / After You’ve Gone (Turner Layton, Harry Creamer); Promenade aux Champs-Élysées (Sidney Bechet); Hindustan (Oliver G. Wallace, Harold Weeks); Truckin’ (Rube Bloom, Ted Koehler); Volare [Nel Blu Dipinto di Blu] (Domenico Modugno, Franco Migliacci, Mitchell Parish); Stradivarius (C.A. Rossi); Boogie Woogie (Paolo Alderighi, Stephanie Trick); Fig Leaf Rag (Scott Joplin); Whispering (Vincent Rose, John Schoenberger, Richard Coburn); New Orleans Function: Flee as a Bird to the Mountain (Mary Dana Schindler); Oh, Didn’t He Ramble (Robert Cole, W.C. Handy); Love Me Tender (Elvis Presley, Vera Matson [Ken Darby]); With a Smile and a Song (Frank Churchill, Larry Morley) / Paolo Alderighi & Stephanie Trick, piano four hands; Roberto Piccolo, bass; Nicola Stranieri, drums. / AT RECORDS CD004

The ongoing saga and musical growth of Paolo Alderighi and Stephanie Trick continues apace with this new CD. Recorded between May and October of 2015, Always has the extra dimension of hearing this gifted piano-four-hands duo playing with a rhythm section of bass and drums. And I love hearing Steph play with bass and drums, because it almost always pushes her to hipper, more inventive playing.

More importantly, this CD shows how both pianists—originally weaned as “classical babies” but bitten by the jazz bug—have morphed even further in their musical journey. They’re still a few steps shy of the “master class” type of playing exhibited by Earl Hines, Jaki Byard or Art Tatum, but they’re now clearly on a level with Errol Garner or Jess Stacy, and that’s not bad at all. Of course, their artistic growth displays the dual influence of Italy and America, as evidenced not only in Alderighi’s flowing lyricism but also by the inclusion of such tunes as Volare and, more astonishing, the resolutely non-jazz Stradivarius, composed back in the 1950s by C.A. Rossi and recorded by Mantovani and his “house o’ strings” orchestra.

Surprises abound in this recital: not just the way they take such old chestnuts as Always, Panama, Whispering and even Scott Joplin’s Fig Leaf Rag and turn them into swingers, but also how they take turns at the treble end (or bass end) of the piano and thus cross-influence each others’ playing. This is particularly evident in the midst of Whispering, where it sounds as if Paolo temporarily steers the music in the direction of Italian film music of the ‘50s, and in Panama where Stephanie’s more aggressive American approach wrests the tune from echoes of Dixieland bands and gives it a gutsy nudge in the right direction. The Italian rhythm section of bassist Roberto Piccolo and drummer Nicola Stranieri play with stylistic versatility and a nice relaxed approach that nearly always adds something to the proceedings, although if you pushed me I’d have to admit a greater fondness for Danny Coots, Trick’s most common American drummer in her live appearances. Perhaps the most surprising track is their quasi-Latin-ballad treatment of Elvis Presley’s Love Me Tender, scarcely a rich tune for jazz improvisation. The final track, With a Smile and a Song, begins in an almost foursquare ragtime beat but quickly opens up into a jazz rumba.

As in their Sentimental Journey album from 2014, Paolo and Stephanie have the rare ability to bring joy and humor to their playing. In a world of what I characterize as serious but often “faceless” players, it’s such a pleasure to hear musicians like these who so obviously love what they’re doing that it rubs off on the listener. My sole complaint is of the cover photo, in which they appear awestruck looking at Michaelangelo’s “Pieta” or some such religious icon. I much prefer the photo I used as the header to this review, where they look like they sound, as if they’re having the most fun in the world. They sure as heck sound it, and you’ll be smiling, too, once you hear this amazing CD.

— © 2016 Lynn René Bayley

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