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Gianmaria Testa: Solo dal Vivo
Gianmaria Testa (vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar), Piero Ponzo (saxophone, Indian harmonium), Nicola Negrini (double bass)
Recorded at the Auditorium Parco della Musica di Roma (May 3, 2008) and Fonoprint, Bologna (October 2008) – 68’47
Produzioni Fuorivia Le Chant du Monde Reference # 274 1731 (Distributed by harmonia mundi)

Sometimes less really is more. Italian poet and songwriter Gianmaria Testa is healthily represented in the catalogue with a series of studio recordings, all which provide reasonable documentation of his singular musical fusion of jazz, tango, bossa nova and light rock elements without entirely capturing the peculiarly affecting emotional edge that is uniquely his to offer. Perhaps the studio is a trifle slickly sterile for his very personal brand of artistry. Testa is an interesting character; born to a farming family near Cuneo, he is apparently entirely self taught on the guitar, and as recently as 2006 was reported by NPR as maintaining his job with the Italian rail system as a station master – his “day job” as it were. The grit is part of the charm.

Solo dal Vivo marks Testa’s first “live” recording, and goes some distance in filling the visceral gap his previous discs suggested. Taken from a delightful concert before an audience of dedicated friends and fans, the new CD nicely captures an intrinsic intimacy in his music, here delivered in straightforward fashion through that unmistakable voice of his (something akin to cigar smoke filtered through gravel), and entirely self-accompanied with solo acoustic guitar. The liner notes by Paola Farinetti, Testa’s friend and producer, are rather too apologetically self aware regarding the resultant technical shortcomings of the project; while one does hear the occasional hum of a cranky stage light and a few environmental squeaks and cracks, the sound is generally clear and bright, with the voice well forward and sensibly balanced with the supporting instrument. Testa provides an emotional continuity throughout with bits of informative patter between songs, and the evening is obviously a joy to those assembled. The home listener can easily drift into a sense of joining the actual audience in their experience, and if not exactly a substitute for being there, the CD does inspire one to pour some red wine and savor it by candlelight – all while inhaling Testa’s affectionate, and slightly melancholy poetic and musical rendering of the human spirit in the immersion of life’s daily challenges, ecstasies and disappointments. The singer/poet’s expressive voice speaks for itself, and there are some delightful touches to be found, as in the nostalgic resonation of his lilting whistle interpolated into Gli amanti di Roma, a gentle reverie that eases the concert into its closing number.

One studio track is included; Come al cielo gli aeroplani (something of an Italianate, folk/jazz cousin to Leavin’ on a Jet Plane) in which Testa’s primary sound is enhanced with sax, harmonium, and double bass for a paean to love ephemeral as “airplanes in the sky”.

The packaging is visually attractive, though regrettably not very user-friendly. Some excellent graphics and fine photography are on display, but while bits of commentary by performer and collaborators alike is given in three languages, harmonia mundi has not provided translations for Testa’s poems – a serious liability, and a probable deterrent for all but those with a sophisticated fluency in Italian. Annoyingly too, the various selections are identified by title only without any corresponding numerical designation; thus one must manually count through some 22 selections in order to determine which is being heard at any given time (the tracking information does conveniently appear when the disc is loaded into ITunes – a boon for MP3 mavens).

That said, this remains a most enjoyable recital, and should provide a fine addition for those already acquainted with Testa’s trenchant musicality, or an excellent introduction for the curious.

Mark Thomas Ketterson




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