Giovanni Guidi at Istituto Italiano di Cultura, January 29th 2019
I used to be a DJ at a jazz radio show long time ago. Once I played Rahsaan Roland King’s live version of I Say a Little Prayer and got so many calls that I couldn’t keep up with the phone. The over 12 minute version found on the album Dog Years in the Fourth Ring is a fascinating trip and the audience responded. That familiar melody played with that kind of ferocity, developing into a blissed cacophony, struck a chord in the show’s listeners that kept inquiring about that tune long after it finished. There’s something about the deconstruction of standards that’s always hypnotic and mesmerizing.
Improvisation makes this deconstruction possible. It’s how the performer imprints his personality and makes the song his own. The melody as the anchor travels through the improvisation vessel and becomes a transforming experience. This revision of what’s familiar unveils elements that sometimes we didn’t know were there. This process is for me one of the most compelling ones when I go to a concert, discovering something new in something I thought it was old. Giovanni Guidi, in his first stop in Japan of the Planet Earth Piano Solo Tour, guided the audience through that journey
I first heard of him by chance. I was at the Ochanomizu Disk Union Jazz store and they played his second trio album for the ECM label: This is the Day, which at the time was his most recent release. The sparse and yet focused sound reminded me of Bill Evans but in a more exploratory, experimental vein. There were truly wide open spaces within the music that kept a unique tension. I browsed for a long time on that day, trying to listen to as much as I could from that mind-blowing release. Later on I checked his work with Enrico Rava which was amazing as well, both comping, soloing and adding some free jazz flourishes here and there. When I found out through the ECM website that he was coming to Japan, made a quick Google search and realized he was playing a free concert courtesy of the Italian Institute of Culture Tokyo. I immediately made a reservation.
When I got to the venue on the day of the concert, Guidi was just stepping out of a cab in front. We said “hi” to each other and continued our way. I thought that was a weird coincidence. It was my first time there and I was surprised by the side of the building. I was expecting a concert in a small room with no stage. Was I wrong. It was actually in a big and cozy auditorium, no disappointments whatsoever.
Right on time Guidi walked on stage and proceeded to deliver an hour suite with no pauses in between. The first few songs were from his upcoming release Avec le temps. In a solo setting some of those open spaces found in his recordings are sacrificed, but the atmosphere is definitely not, the lyrical aspects of his music are still present in his dynamics and the segues between songs. I liked how he sometimes will use one motive and then come back later on to it. His reinterpretation of the standards started with I’m through With Love (“Josephine!”) According to the program Over The Rainbow was included, I think I heard traces of it. I’m sure that Quizas, Quizas, Quizas was played, even though it wasn’t written on the program. A truly breathtaking rendition, I might add. For the song Avec le temps instead of a more subdued approach, he chose to reproduce the bravura typically associated with Leo Ferre’s singing. After a couple of Italian classic songs, things came to a close with a truly moving rendition of Brian Eno’s By The River with that immortal descending arpeggio hanging in the air.
He came back and delivered a couple of encores, the first one being Moon River. It was fitting that a set of well known tunes that started with a song associated with Marilyn Monroe will finish with another best known for its Audrey Hepburn rendition. Including Nat King Cole in the mix, these icons are the embodiment of the elegance of Guidi’s piano playing. Witnessing his improvisational prowess, capable of interweaving dissimilar tunes into one uninterrupted suite, that felt like a narrative with a beginning, a middle and an end, was quite a treat. Above all his own take and personality shined through, in the same way that Rahsaan Roland King’s I Say a Little Prayer does. That’s what happens when standards are reinterpreted by true artists.
Thank you Italian Institute of Culture Tokyo for bringing artists like this to Tokyo. Thank you for reading. Please follow me on Twitter at @ConcertTokyo. You can also click the Like button and get notifications at The Tokyo Concert Experience on Facebook.