First, the setting: the triumphal arch flanking one side of Nottolini’ masterpiece, il Ponte delle Catene at Chifenti, dating from 1840 and Italy’s first iron-chained suspension bridge.
Second, the spectacular ever-changing lighting before the neo-classical arch.
Third, and most important, a jazz quartet of superlative quality: the Michela Lombardi Organ quartet.
The Hammond organ player virtuoso, Alberto Gurrisi, drew from this highly temperamental instrument all the fluidity, staccati and expressive tones it is capable of. Every break from Gurrisi was amply and deservedly well-applauded. Luca Giovacchini on guitar made his instrument sound in parts as if it were rhythm, bass and lead all wrapped up in one. The miraculous use of controlled feedback shows that Giovacchini is well on the way to becoming one of the finest jazz guitarists on a European scale.
Pacho Rossi, percussionist, wearing a suitably red siren suit showed his amazing range of sound production from standard drum kit, through bongo to chimes.
A band needs someone to tie it together and the utterly magical voice of Michela Lombardi brought everything into an astonishing unity. Her songs were sung with perfect English diction: every word felt and every expression communicated. Her scatting was outstanding and, particularly in the softer numbers, her ability to sustain a sotto-voce was quite seductive.
Born in Viareggio in 1973 Michela did her first live performance at just the age of fourteen. She graduated in philosophy at Pisa University and studied theatre technique. Her vocal training was in Milan conservatoire and her jazz singing teacher was Tiziana Ghiglioni at Bologna.
Michela’s first CD Gently Hard was issued in in 1999. From then on it’s been a great success story with such hits as By your side and Reach out.
Michela is also a teacher and among her pupils there’s even been Andrea Bocelli.
The main theme of the evening was the blues and the programme started off with a driving example of Chicago urban blues. There was a particularly poignant song where blue skies were transmuted by disappointed love into the blue devils which haunt the blues. There were classic numbers like near to you, some great songs from some of her and the quartet’s album and a tribute to Joni Mitchell (happily now recovering) in Dreamland.
All songs were sung in English, Michela’s main singing language, which she knows perfectly.
We were all so lucky to be there! I cannot pretend to know too much about jazz but I know when I hear good music and last night, before the spectacular backdrop of the ponte delle catene, was brilliant and fully demonstrated the stratospheric excellence of Italian jazz at its best.
And there’s more to come! This concert was just a taster of that now mythical event, Barga Jazz, in whose programme, starting on the 18th of August, we are promised two more concerts by the outstanding Michela Lombardi and the Barga Jazz Orchestra.
Unfortunately I only had a poor mobile phone to take pictures with but there’ll be plenty more to see at Barga news at http://www.barganews.com/ since fine photographer and editor Keane was also present at this memorable evening.