REFLECTION: Livio Minafra (Italy), MIJF Club Session at Bennetts Lane 9.30pm Monday 2 June 2014
I plan to post a review of this festival — within the limits of those concerts I attend — as a whole, but this piano solo gig was so out of left field that it seemed to merit a “reflection”.
After discussing this surprising performance by Minafra, I posted on Facebook later that jazz critic Whitney Balliett said jazz was “the sound of surprise” and that “I keep being suprised” (that’s me, not him).
I expected lots of melodic, tumbling notes delivered by a pianist in an expansive fashion.
Before the set, I noticed a small, stuffed toy attached to the grand piano. No one admitted to having any idea of why it was there. Then I noticed there were objects in the piano — a whistle, a little horn, a ball. I thought of Adam Simmons‘ toy band, but remained mystified.
When Livio Manafra came on stage clad all in white — the opposite of the typical jazz “cat” — I began to have my doubts. Then he took out a large shoulder bag and began throwing CDs and other objects on the floor around the piano. I had more doubts.
Then he began to play. It was reassuring. He clearly could play the instrument.
Then he took a ball from inside the piano and rubbed it on the keys while playing. Then I noticed his left foot was bare and the other in a sock. Before long he was playing with his left, bare foot resting on the end of the keyboard. I hoped it was clean.
At the end of the piece, the pianist rested his head on the keys and let his body go limp, arm dangling towards the floor. My doubts returned.
This performer was no doubt talented, but theatrical in the extreme. What were we in for, I wondered. I don’t think it helps to spend too much time debating what is or is not jazz, but this was about as far from the core of jazz as you could get.
About that time Livio Minafra began to talk about his music, about life and about dreams. He was immediately engaging. He spoke of music as autobiography, about capitalism, about the cultural mix in his home in southern Italy. In between, he played and whistled and rustled a plastic bag and sang, his voice at one stage taking me back to my days in Tehran and the regular calls to prayer by the muezzin. Later I learned this piece was titled Muezzin. It seemed to have angst in the rolling thunder of his notes.
In Pioggerellina Di Bogota, Minafra asked audience members to take out their car keys and then, having asked Bennetts Lane bar staff for a stick to act as a baton, proceeded to conduct us all in a group performance — for our CVs, he joked, so that we could say we had played with him.
His final piece, Bulgaria, was his “ciao”. Before playing he made reference to mixed races as a point of strength in society — “Australia is a magic laboratory” — and to the santoor and similar ancient instruments as the precursors of the piano.
To illustrate this, he called for a volunteer to perform a task. The young woman who agreed said her name was Yu, which led to great hilarity as Minafra explained to her (you) what he needed. Yu was to gather the CDs and other objects from the floor and, after he had played for three minutes, scatter them gradually into the piano in the style of a prepared piano, altering the sound.
This was a surprise gig that turned from a seemingly theatrical exercise into an at times thought-provoking and at times hilarious and thoroughly entertaining evening. Certainly it was far from whatever core jazz may be, but it was improvised and engaging.
I’m fairly certain that all who stayed to hear how Livio Minafra’s set turned out would have left with warm feelings for the pianist and for their fellow human beings. He warmed our hearts.
And at a time when the heart has gone out of government, we needed and welcomed it.