Giovanni Mirabassi: Music above all!

The year was 2000, and the café was the « Saint- Jean », next to Place des Abbesses. It was Giovanni Mirabassi’s meeting place, adjacent to the Sacré-Cœur, that pale monument to the bloody victory of the reactionary forces over the Paris Commune. At that time, he referred to himself as a libertarian, illustrated by the recently-released album Avanti ! with its anthems to freedom and partisan songs like Le temps des cerises and Imagine. The emblematic El pueblo unido jamás será vencido formed the introduction to this solo album, in which the artist « faced his responsibilities and recognized his limits » in isolation. And as soon as the album was released, this native pianist from Perugia was discovered by a widespread audience, changing the career direction of a man from a traditional right-wing catholic family who had originally been destined for a lifetime in the legal profession. « But there was a piano, at home, and from the age of two, I started playing the instrument. Only at the age of sixteen did I take my first five piano lessons… and the five final ones took place at the age of twenty two. » (…) Giovanni Mirabassi, nurtured on Monk and Chopin and later on Enrico Pieranunzi and Keith Jarrett, left for Paris in 1992, on a whim. He was then 21 years old and full of dreams but was soon confronted with the harsh realities of life as a self-taught individual, doing odd jobs, accompanying (committed) singers, but never breaking his connection with jazz and he had to work for quite a long time backstage before stepping out in the limelight.

After his debut in duet with the recording of his first album En bonne et due forme, in 1998, he started paving the way for a successful career with Architectures, recorded with Louis Moutin and Daniele Mencarelli. In the latter, we discover his idea of rhythm, with its distinctive shifts, previously unheard. We find the same personal manner of playing in Avanti ! and the pianist later distinguishes himself by using remarkably simple phrases. His ethereal touch and the romantic feelings arousing from interspersed finely cut lines evoke his fine taste for melody. « Che Guevara used to say that the true revolution is guided by a great feeling of love. We are not talking here about politics but aesthetics…and this field has no limits. » Giovanni Mirabassi has received numerous music awards and is admired by a large audience. At an early stage, he imposed his style on the French jazz scene, and then at an international level, as his latest album testifies: Live @ The Blue Note, Tokyo, which is the last of a remarkable trilogy with drummer-percussionist Leon Parker and bassist Gianluca Renzi. He also won renown with another trio (((Air))), in good company : with trombonist Glenn Ferris and trumpet player Flavio Boltro.

And in 2011, it’s back to the future!... Giovanni Mirabassi is still faithful to the Saint Jean…. He is releasing a sequel of Avanti !, which, with a touch of irony, he has entitled: ¡ Adelante ! « I have chosen this title to cock a snook at the Japanese who have unscrupulously bought the catalogue which comprises Avanti ! to which I have no more legal rights. I have been dispossessed of my work, in the name of so- called free enterprise». Eleven years later, the pianist with fire in the eyes remains more than ever a committed artist. He has always felt close to matters political, in his view, « a noble matter which consists of creating the conditions for living together ». He regrets that today, more than at any time in the past, too many of his fellow musicians are moving away from the right of the artist to have their say on urban life. Giovanni Mirabassi is proud to give his opinion, to fight for his ideas. « The artist has to find his place in society once more; he has to play a dialectical role and challenge established authority, and so ignite people’s consciousness. »

Faithful to his philosophy, he went to Fidel’s country to record his new album, in the Abdala Studio in Havana, and what’s more: on May 1st ! « This album is dedicated to the revolution. We are told revolution is a thing of the past whereas in reality it has never been so topical ». Somewhat left-wing or « à gauche » as the French say, but far from being gauche when playing the piano (!)… Giovanni Mirabassi is nonetheless fully aware of Castro’s role in the country and the consequences of the embargo which, in his opinion, « has hampered any possibility of opening Cuba up to democracy, for decades ».

« Forward! », then ... If we paraphrase the title of this new album ¡ Adelante ! in which Giovanni Mirabassi performs essentially as a soloist, a format in which the aesthete of canto piano excels. His guests are a trio formed in the tradition of Irakere in the piece : Yo me quedo by the iconic Pablo Milanés, and singer Angela Elvira Perez, the mother of his current drummer Lukmil Perez, in a spontaneous version of Hasta siempre, the quintessential song of the Cuban people, already heard in Avanti ! (2000). « I made this album probably feeling less passive and more committed than with Avanti ! The approach is the same but the sense of urgency is more acute. We need to take sides ». Giovanni Mirabassi gives body and soul to the 88 ivory and ebony keys, a master of chromatic scales and fervent rhythm, which underline the melodic content of a repertoire mainly centered on songs in Spanish. « My aim was to return to the melodies as they are, and trust their sense of urgency, responsibility and intrinsic freedom ». These qualities can be applied to those songs which are emblematic of the South-American continent such as Gracias a la vida by Mercedes Sosa, but also to those tunes which pay tribute to the enduring memories of the Spanish Civil War.

But this Italian –turned- Frenchman has also taken up several songs from the Douce France repertoire, like Le chant des Canuts, a lyric which renders all its power to the concept of the workers’ struggle, and a few other tunes, putting the lyrics aside: Graine d’ananar , L’Affiche rouge , by Léo Ferré and Aragon, two names still very much alive today. But Giovanni Mirabassi’s mission is not to show off (using « marketing » in the Renaud style), nor does he wish simply to display his life story as a committed man acting out in the field. « I want to apply the propositions of an economic alternative to my work and I am truly concerned with artistic autonomy and equitable sharing. Having said this, one always starts with oneself but… I’m not going to start dressing like Che Guevara. I want the music to speak for itself. That’s the only way I can aim for the hearts of people, without having to dabble in politics from day to day. Defending an idea is not the same as defending a building ». And Godness knows how these songs speak volumes! « Contentious music is always very evocative. It sends out a cry for freedom which unites all those who listen to it. The purpose of this album is to reassert all the challenges and ideas which I support, and for which I am fighting. It is also a tribute to those who got their hands dirty in order to build a better world, which today it seems we are trying to reduce to rubble. »
Jacques Denis – So Jazz- octobre 2011

¡ Adelante ! is an exceptional new album in which the accomplished pianist blends his highly inventive sense of melody and improvisation with a message of protest and freedom which brings people together. (A.S – November 2011)