CD Review – Daniela Nardi “Espresso Manifesto”
I am partial to discovering music by artists who are also considered world artists. Listening to musicians from islands, Europe, Africa and Down Under only to discover how they have taken specific Americanization’s and applied it to their own heritages and cultures only to unravel flavors in the music that are truly amazingly their own – really impresses me.
Years ago, I was listening to Italian artist Eugenio Finardi sing his own Chuck Berry-influenced rocker called “Corrina-Corrina” in perfect English. It’s off his all-English album “Secret Streets.” Nevertheless, the sweet surprise came when any other musician would have taken a guitar or piano solo. After all, it was very Chuck Berry. Instead, Finardi’s rock solo break was on a clarinet.
A clarinet – and it worked.
Who would have guessed? But it took an Italian to even think of such a thing. Italians have been pushing the musical envelope for decades. No, make that centuries.
Daniela Nardi takes an idea Eugenio Finardi used decades ago — though he may not have invented it — of using both English and Italian lyrics in a single tune and effectively using it in her version of “Via Con Me.” In her live version she has some cool scat singing going on — not quite in the league of the giants — but respectable of both Ella Fitzgerald and Anita O’Day. If this is where Daniela is headed….I’m going with her. Her potential is just that invigorating.
I never under-estimate what these artists will do when shaping their own interpretations of their work. Borrowing from rock, a little folk, some blues, a dose of jazz and their very own European traditions. After all, the Appalachian traditional music of the American mountains is very American — but, with roots in Celtic, Irish and Scottish ballads. We too, have cross-pollinated our musical notes through the decades and those mountain people are some great musicians and interpreters.
So, from all places, Toronto, Canada — comes this wonderfully enchanting and captivating Canadian-Italian CD by this smoky voiced sultry sounding — Daniela Nardi — who just can’t help but hit the target with virtually every tune on her inspiring collection. And unlike some of her Italian predecessors, she’s at least a beautiful musical addition too. (I like to think of her as the “new” Milva. Milva, having been a widely respected legendary Italian female vocalist). Daniela, however, is not as pop oriented. Her roots are in American jazz for certain.
You don’t even have to understand Italian to appreciate her singing, or the melodies (Italian’s have a monopoly on melody when it comes to rock, folk or middle-of-the-road standards).
After all, it was Italian’s who wrote Elvis Presley’s “I Can’t Help Falling In Love,” (even Arlo Guthrie covered this one) “Surrender” and “It’s Now or Never.” Madugno’s “Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu (Volare)” – don’t gasp – won two Grammy Awards and sold 22 million copies worldwide in 1958. Even Philadelphia’s young Bobby Rydell had a hit with it on the Pop charts — back in the early 60’s.
Italian singer Zucchero also performed, recorded or collaborated with Joe Cocker, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Miles Davis. Of course, we all know Andrea Bocelli and his wonderful music with Sarah Brightman on “It’s Time To Say Goodbye.”
Anyone who loves this music is missing out on great ones if they ignore: Finardi (who has had some success in America with his all English blues CD “Anima Blues”), Lucio Battisti, a Franco Battiato, Milva, Caterina Casselli or the still new wavish Oxanna.
Now comes “Espresso Manifesto,” the songs of Paolo Conte — a composer, singer and pianist in the Jacques Brel realm. You may say you don’t know him – yet, his songs have appeared in films such as: 2003’s I Am David (2003), 1999’s Mickey Blue Eyes, 1995’s French Kiss, 2001’s Mostly Martha and 2002’s Welcome to Collinwood.
Daniela Nardi sings these songs brilliantly, beautifully and some have South American jazzy flavors, and the arrangements are tight and seem to just gallop along at a comfortable pace — a relaxing listen. A prescription for calm no drug could offer.
My favorite, “Messico e Nuvole” (rough translation “Mexico and Clouds” or “Mexican Clouds”) with its silky Spanish accordion and smooth toned Fabrizio Bosso trumpet are a treat as Daniela floats above the instruments with her brandy smooth voice.
If I could only translate the lyrics Daniela sings, listeners would find the tale poetic — words far above mere lyrics. The lyric is clever — the voice and words are instruments themselves playing with the actual instruments.
Bosso’s trumpet is Latin-perfect with a hint of bossa-nova. This is what Italian musicians and arrangers are famous for. It’s a Spanish-oriented song yet that persistent Italian style holds its hand and maneuvers it through the ear – especially the unfamiliar ear – and it sounds sweet, engaging and haunting. The entire song is the hook and I know Spanish listeners will definitely enjoy this.
Daniela also self-produced this collection which is even more impressive. Her interpretations are well-thought out and simply cool.
The tune “Chiamami Adesso” (Call Me Now) – is beat generation cool. Something you would hear in a poetry/coffee house with upright bass, fluid trumpet lines, crazy rhythm piano playing the way Miles Davis sometimes tooted out notes and flung them out into the air to find their way into unsuspecting ears.
Daniela’s voice at times is husky but always eloquent. All of this is to be expected from a true jazz singer and — Daniela is this.
When Daniela begins to sing “Gelato al Limone,” (Lemon Ice) she has that Edith Piaf strength asserting itself. It’s a delight the way she pronounces the words urgently and seductively while a clarinet hovers over her and a steady hi-hat beat follows her brisk vocal-walk through long Italian city streets.
It’s the image I recall of the classic Ruth Orkin black and white picture of the young girl (Ninalee Craig) walking through a Florence street in the 1950’s in her sandals and long dress surrounded by many, many good looking Italian men whistling and probably cat-calling — perched and harmlessly taunting as her true beauty passes. Ah, this song just goes with that image so perfectly. Maybe that man on the scooter is the father of one of the musicians in the band. Or, Paolo Conte may have seen this picture and was influenced. The irony in this is that Ninalee Craig, now in her 80’s – lives today in Toronto, Canada – where Daniela’s music originates. How crazy is that?
Following these brilliant Italian songs, Daniela really turns a phrase with her aggressive all-English vocal on “Don’t Break My Heart.” As much as I love the Italian songs, Daniela is equally comfortable with this venue and has had all-English albums released in the past: The Rose Tattoo is one, and One True Thing. Worth checking and probably on YouTube or MySpace Music.
These tunes could easily be played along with Nora Jones, Adele, Diana Krall, Madeliene Peryoux and even Billie Holiday. Her vocals are what black jazz purists cherish. That clipped vocal, that sincere yet painful yearning in the inflections.
“Un’Altra Vita” (Another Life) – is a nice segue into how Italy can comfortably insinuate bluesy jazz – while strictly an American import – could have easily been born in Europe had those veteran black and Caucasian jazz players of so long ago decided to make Europe their home in the early 20th Century instead of New Orleans, St Louis or Chicago.
While strictly an American art form, Daniela Nardi adds a special touch of Italian to her jazz style by featuring a little of Fabrizio Bosso’s muted trumpet. These artists have learned their lessons well and could probably teach some of today’s youngsters of jazz. It’s about playing the right notes — that’s what Miles Davis once said. Italian’s would add: it’s about also having the right “feel” at the right time.
Daniela and her musicians on “Espresso Manifesto” have the right feel at the right time.
Jazzy guitar floats around Ms. Nardi’s voice courtesy of Fausto Mesolella. But this is nothing new. Italians for years have been great jazz interpreters and this confirms that — the tradition continues.
No Depression is filled with Americana, folk and rock songs but I have taken a chance reviewing this type of music because I also know No Depression readers like to discover…rather, uncover — new things.
This CD has received such favorable reviews worldwide that it would be a shame not to bring it to the attention of dedicated and intense listeners such as those at No Depression. There will be no disappointments spending a few minutes listening to something recorded with elegance and romance.
If you don’t understand Italian words – you can get passed it all by focusing on the arrangements and musicianship. The first track starts out in Italian until Daniela slips into her enticing English vocals. This is something Eugenio Finardi practiced back in the 1970’s with his “La C.I.A.” “Via Con Me,” as discussed earlier — is a nice journey with clean, precise and melodic clarinet. It gently supports Ms. Nardi’s vocals as a steady drum nudges her without any clutter. I have begun to enjoy the live version at The Lula Lounge even more which is posted here.
I didn’t find a single tune on this CD that didn’t have something to offer.
My only problem – and it isn’t with Daniela or the Conte songs – but the very word “jazz” itself which lyrically is sung in one of the songs. It’s just not a comfortable melodic word that flows with a language as melodic as Italian lyrics. It comes across as a little “hard.” While all the other words float on the music — the word “jazz” seems to “bob” up and down in the musical water. Too bad the word didn’t end in a vowel.
There’s nothing one can do – it’s just that some English words mesh well with Italian in a song and some are just — clumsy. But there is no substitute for the word “jazz” because jazz is jazz.
This CD is enjoyable and not in the way that most jazz needs to be challenging or dramatic. This is strictly something to taste while closing your eyes and enjoying its many flavors.
This is Daniela Nardi’s gift.
While the songs didn’t have an aggressive jazz approach – with soaring trumpet solos like Maynard Ferguson, Don Ellis or Doc Severinsen — they are warm, heartfelt and sincere. Maybe taken from the music book of Bert Kaemphert at times. Bert always had a trumpet player in his orchestra that was super talented yet not soaring and melodramatic.
Sometimes, with this kind of music — on a Sunday afternoon with espresso and a pastry, some wine, a cigar, or if you’re a woman — an aperitif or Dubonnet — that’s all one needs to find some peace.
Daniela Nardi succeeds — above all expectations.
(You have to hear & see this Italian clarinet player Gabriele Mirabassi on this live track — incredible — with also some great trumpet on this live show by Bryden Baird & Ron Davis on keyboards — This is one hot Italian-Canadian band on stage.)
John Apice / No Depression / October 18th 2012
The Songs of Paolo Conte – Produced by Daniela Nardi — http://www.danielanardi.com/