Spira and Mirabassi Play Improkofiev


IMPROKOFIEV / SPIRA: Ocean Dance. After Rain. C. BLEY: Lawns. SATIE: Gymnopedie No. 1. PROKOFIEV-SPIRA: Improkofiev (adaptation of Violin Concerto No. 1)* / Stéphane Spira, s-sax; Giovanni Mirabassi, pno; Steve Wood, bs; Donald Kontomanou, dm; *Youann Loustalot, Fl-hn / Jazzmax JM80404

French soprano saxist Stéphane Spira and Italian pianist Giovanni Mirabassi are veteran European jazz musicians of whom I had not heard of prior to reviewing this release. Their music is rooted in 1950s cool jazz, which makes sense since Spira was a protégé of longtime Chet Baker pianist Michel Grallier, but it is swinging, enjoyable and moderately inventive. They break up the time in an interesting manner and are very fine improvisers. The bass and drums sit out on Ocean Dance.

On Carla Bley’s Lawns, Mirabassi plays in almost a Gospel-stride style, again fragmenting time in an interesting way, and bassist Wood and drummer Kontomanou prove to be an excellent backing for their conception of this piece, particularly the former who takes a nice solo on this one. The drummer opens up After Rain with a nice solo before leading into the quasi-bossa-nova tune by Spira. Once again the improvisations are delightful and interesting.

Their interpretation of Erik Satie’s Gymnopedie No. 1 is light and swinging at a nice medium tempo, quite different from the famous Blood, West & Tears recording of the late 1960s that turned so many Hippies on to Satie. Its problem is that it goes on for too long and doesn’t say very much after the first two minutes.

Particularly interesting, however, is their jazz version of Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1, which they’ve titled Improkofiev. The themes are trimmed down to basics and the rhythm changed substantially, but the unusual harmonies remain to provide an interesting base for their improvs. Flugelhorn player Youann Loustalot joins the quartet in this one for some pleasant, Chet Baker-like playing. The second movement, here retitled “NY Dream,” becomes a nice ballad for the quartet, while the last movement, “No strings attached,” begins out of tempo at a moderate pace before moving into a nice medium tempo.

All in all, a pleasant album.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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