Chamber Music New Zealand has never held back from extending its audiences beyond familiar string quartets and piano trios.
Jazz pianist Francesco Turrisi comes with first rate credentials, having manned the Auckland Town Hall Steinway two years ago when the Baroque ensemble L'Arpeggiata mixed and mingled the old and new.
At this week's performance, he gave us his own 2018 album Northern Migrations, re-ordering its various pieces, punctuating them with a roving commentary. There can be few more demanding genres than solo jazz piano, defined for many by the mammoth and ingenious concerts of the American Keith Jarrett in the 1970s.
The first few minutes of Turrisi's performance augured well with dazzling right hand flourishes, evoking Baroque ornamental extravagance. Alas, it soon became a template, in which an admittedly virtuoso right hand sorely dominated the left. How one longed for the linear punch of a striding bass although a brief appearance of inner voices in "A Thousand Years Old" was manna for the soul.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
This last track was not alone in owing too much to the sugary songwriting of Michel Legrand, coming across as an instrumental in search of lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman.
Familiar with Turrisi's original CD, I found his new placements puzzling. Why was the Arabic-styled "Taksim", described by the pianist as an introductory piece, relegated to later in the programme?
There was much talk from the piano stool, always urbane and sometimes perceptive, such as when he brought up the issue of migrants, he himself having moved from Sicily via Holland to Dublin. However, a flip description of the evening as the musical equivalent of speed dating came back to haunt me during pounding patches of banality.
An encore incorporated a song from Turrisi's terrific new album with American singer Rhiannon Giddens in which he backdrops her vocals with everything from piano and accordion to various percussion instruments.
If only we could have heard his own double-tracked accordion that, on CD, so illuminates the title track of Northern Migrations. Without it, the piece's repetitive 11/8 phrases became a wearisome plod.
What: Francesco Turrisi
Where: Auckland Town Hall Concert Chamber
Reviewed by: William Dart