Martin Salemi Has Short Stories to Tell


SHORT STORIES / SALEMI: Confidence. (Working) Summer. Si J’avais Su. Early Morning. Unsaid. Regina. TRISTANO: Lennie’s Pennies. LENNON-McCARTNEY: Julia / Martin Salemi, pn; Mike Delaere, bs; Toine Cnockaert, dm / Igloo Records IGL285

This is one of those very rare recordings that fuse a warm, relaxed feeling with real invention and interest. Martin Salemi, a 29-year-old Belgian pianist, makes his CD debut here with an album that mixes in the styles of Bill Evans, Lennie Tristano, and a touch of Claude Bolling. The opening track is a perfect case in point. Starting out in a soft, slow mood, it suddenly explodes in the middle with an extended double-time improvisation featuring some nifty right-hand runs before moving back to the slower tempo and showing off some classically-influenced counterpoint.And his trio partners, bassist Delaere and drummer Cnockaert, are right there with him.

The second piece, (Working) Summer, is a calypso-sounding sort of piece in 5/4. Salemi clearly has fun with this, indulging in some remarkable phrases in which the rhythm is skewed by means of a slight holding back or tenuto on certain notes in his improvisation. He becomes quite busy, turning eights into triplets and then into sixteenths as he turns up the heat within the trio. Cnockaert takes an interesting, tasteful drum solo that definitely adds to the atmosphere.

Si J’avais Su is one of those ballads that, somehow or other, have “French” written all over them. Don’t ask me to define exactly what it is; it’s just something in the chording and the melodic progression that reminded me of some of Claude Bolling’s and Jacques Prévert’s work in the past. Salemi plays it, and everything on this album, with a light but very definite touch. Every note emerges crisply and clearly, as if it was etched in glass.

The late Clare Fischer made a specialty of Lennie’s Pennies, recording it several times with different-sized groups. His piano trio recording presented the music very tongue-in-cheek, starting with an out-of-tempo introduction in which the original Pennies From Heaven tune was played with typically quirky Tristano changes before moving into more serious playing. Salemi is rather serious from start to finish, but he certainly captures Tristano’s style and energy quite well.


Left to right: Delaere, Salemi, Cnockaert

Early Morning, another Salemi original, is a waltz with yet another sort of Gallic accent about it, played with Evans-like sensitivity—again, ramping up the volume and the swing in the more excitable central section. Equally interesting is his reworking of the Beatles tune Julia, in which Salemi gives us just enough of the original melody to let us in on what he’s doing, This one is an a cappella solo. Unsaid, another Salemi original, is taken at either a brisk 3 or a medium-tempo 6/8, whichever you prefer to call it. This one definitely rides above some nifty chord changes, firmly tonal yet continually surprising. Cnockaert.again throw in some Caribbean-styled rhythm behind the pianist. This one almost sounds like a Dave Brubeck sort of piece…just wonderful! As per usual, Salemi gets quite worked up in the middle section. I love the fact that he doesn’t keep his moods static, and the rhythm section just flies behind him on this one.

The finale, Regina, is another piece in irregular rhythm, suggesting but not quite achieving a bossa nova. Salemi’s chord structure here is modal, using occasional movement down a half-tone to suggest variety while essentially staying in one place the whole time. Cnockaert’s drums are subtle and just right in terms of the “push” he gives the beat, creating a motor rhythm somewhat the opposite of Salemi’s. A bit of Blue Note-era bluesy funk is thrown in in the middle by the pianist, with both bass and drums getting busier behind him.

I really can’t praise this album highly enough. If the reader gets the feeling from the above review that I didn’t quite describe Salemi’s playing in enough detail, it is only because there is so much detail that it’s better to just listen and not analyze too much. Get it!

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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