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Andrea PADOVA (b.1962)
Ballads & Prayers
Perfect Moon
Once Again
Breath of the Earth
Turning Point
In Motion
Chanson Perdue
Memory Lane
Night Garden
Sunday Afternoon
James Houlik (saxophone)
Andrea Padova (piano)
rec. 2017, Limen Music Studio
Includes CD and DVD of the same performances
LIMEN CDVD102C102 [47:14]

Italian composer and pianist Andrea Padova teams up with American tenor saxophonist James Houlik for a 47-minute, 12-track recital of ballads and prayers in both CD and DVD formats. The visual element shows that both musicians play from the score; there’s no improvisation but Padova has clearly absorbed elements of jazz phrasing over his compositional career and infuses them into his compact works. The set is austere, both musicians dressed all in black, the lighting subdued, the only element of colour the Turkish carpet and the Renaissance-styled sculpture on the side of the stage. The atmosphere, then, is focused, devoid of frippery, serious-minded.

Padova’s music is intensely lyric and expressive. The pieces are similarly structured, in the main, and run for a similar span – around four minutes is the average, so they have the temporal span of popular song. Nothing is obscure or complex, rather the focus is on communicative richness and beauty of texture and tone, as well as a certain affecting depth. The expressive precision is shown in Perfect Moon, a slow unfolding of instrumental finesse or in the distribution in material between the two instruments on Prelude. Ripe piano chording with little jazzy turns of phrase are a constant element of the procedure though Padova explores a more extrovert and robust line in Breath of the Earth whilst Houlik, an exemplary player, slightly twists the tone on Turning Point; this slight timbral hoarseness serves to enliven the tune. In the main, however, songfulness is all – when, that is, the music is not in mourning mode; Kaddish or Prayer, for example. The former is not Hebraic – no Bloch-like infiltrations, for instance. The music is lightly keening, certainly, but not mournful and the emotive temperature remains temperate.

With the nostalgic warmth of Memory Lane comes renewed lyric generosity. There’s no doubt that Padova is an attractive and successful lyric composer. However, from time to time, the piano-then-sax-then-back-again procedure can tend to pall as it does so often in jazz performances where solos follow a predictable instrumental route. And for all the technical adroitness and tonal beauty to be heard there is sometimes, for me at least, a frustration that procedure and execution lack variety of tempo and mood.

The notes are very brief and the recording quality on both CD and DVD first class. Best to savour this one track at a time.

Jonathan Woolf

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