Barefoot and bewitching, jazz genius Paolo Fresu surprised, seduced, and disported from the first note to the last. On the 20th of July, I was transported in a friend’s car to Bagnoregio, a village 12 km from where I live. Bagnoregio, though not as internationally famous as Orvieto, for example, is renowned for its proximity, via an extensive causeway, to Civita Bagnoregio, sadly nicknamed La città che muore (“The Dying Town”). Neither the town proper nor its Etruscan suburb would dared to have died that Thursday night. A small square, Piazza Biondini, packed with a mostly Italian crowd felt hearts beat faster and pulses race watching the performance of Paolo Fresu on the trumpet and flugelhorn and Daniele di Bonaventuramasterfully coaxing remarkable orchestrations from a bandoneon, a smaller, concertina-type accordion.
Wearing tight white trousers with a thin black stripe, a sport coat, and designer T-shirt, Paolo looked more hip than Don Johnson in Miami Vice. All tight, compact body with the merest hint of a tummy and tanned skin…hey, wait! Why am I focusing on his physical self when it should be all about the music? Why? Because Paolo, however he behaves during the winter, or at indoor performances, was a creature of that summer night, sprinkled with more than a dash of Ziggy’s star dust. All moves, stretches, and posture, Fresu used his body to punctuate the music, soothe the gentle notes, and frankly, provide a feast for the eye.
At first, I thought the bare feet were mere whimsy, a bow to the heat, until he pointed the toes on his left foot, not unlike Baryshnikov, and tucked it firmly behind the opposite knee. The entire move – point, lift, place was studied and in harmony with the complex sounds emanating from the instrument. Moments later, as if it begged to be free, the same foot reversed itself and stretched back into a lunge that would have had some falling out of the chair. Over and over, endless muscular maneuvers shared the stage with man and horn.
Daniele di Bonaventura, his bandoneon positioned mid-thigh, saved most of his movement for the instrument itself, expanding, contracting, and molding it with minute and surgical precision. If the eye was drawn to Paolo’s drama, the ear appreciated the infinite skill of the bandoneonista and the instrument’s ability to mimic so many others. The power and talent of these two men brought a virtual orchestra to the stage.
Though much of the repertoire was Italian in origin, the near rapture of the two musicians, melodically taking and giving, entering and leaving, spun Italian wizardry, magia Italiana. Still, when the familiar strains of “I Wish You Love”, written by Edie Gormé and taken to hitdom by Nat King Cole, wafted through the warm evening air, I restrained an urge to join in.
The only interval came when Paolo set down his flugelhorn, shifted out of his jacket and, standing at the hitherto unused microphone, addressed the audience. He spoke of the his pleasure in working with Daniele and how they challenged each other creatively, other musicians he had had the good fortune to work with, places he had performed, including Milan, the whole of Europe, and Chile. While I didn’t understand most of this, the audience laughed and nodded on cue, especially when he mentioned family and children.
Brilliance, invention, and flat out awesomeness followed in the second half, but the highlight for me was a magnificent variation on Johann Sebastian Bach’s Minuet in G Minor. Daniele unfolded the introductory measures, inviting Paolo and his muted trumpet to join about 30 seconds in. From then on, the dance unfurled like a golden silk curtain in the summer wind. It was glorious.