A New Golden Age Of Pianists

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After Grigoryan returns to New York—she’s touring Europe with both a duo and her trio during the summer—she plans to begin working on a new album. First off, she’ll select her musicians—a tough job, given the number of New York musicians she’d like to work with. Then she’ll think about instrumentation, perhaps moving out of the trio format that she finds so comfortable and into writing for a sextet or vocals. “I want to stretch my boundaries,” she said.

Constant experimentation with unfamiliar approaches to music is a characteristic this current crop of pianists seems drawn to. Whether they’re testing different band formats, unfamiliar compositional elements or uncommon collaborations, each holds a forward-looking view of the music—and their contributions to it.

WHEN YOU START TO DIG INTO GIOVANNI GUIDIS innumerable recording and performing ensembles, it’s hard to keep up: He has more than a dozen albums to his credit, seven as a leader, and he’s juggling seven projects, each with a different grouping and purpose.

Guidi is perhaps best known in Europe for working with trumpeter Enrico Rava, whose avant-garde ensemble he joined at age 19.

“[Enrico] was really my mentor, the musician who helped me to develop my own language,” Guidi wrote in an email. “Playing with him all these years, it’s been a kind of ‘university of the street.’”

The pianist recorded three albums with Rava, starting in 2006, and this prominent work led to his own 2013 deal with ECM. That year, he released his first leader date, City Of Broken Dreams, going on to produce three more recordings for the imprint.

Of these, his 2018 release, Avec Le Temps, shows off Guidi at his melodic best. On the serenely beautiful album, he joins with four equally elite instrumentalists (drummer João Lobo, bassist Thomas Morgan, guitarist Roberto Cecchetto and saxophonist Francesco Bearzatti), solidifying his reputation as a peerless exemplar of the chamber-jazz sound.

Which is not to suggest that Guidi doesn’t ever ratchet it up a notch. He also partners with trumpeter Fabrizio Bosso and three young talents from New York—tenor player Aaron Burnett, bassist Dezron Douglas and drummer Joe Dyson—in the quintet The Revolutionary Brotherhood, a fuller-sounding, more rhythmic group.

In addition to these recording and touring bands, he performs as one-half of an ambient duo; with an electronica-based trio; in a musical drama called Drive!; and with a new high-energy jazz band called Salida. His solo career is thriving, too.

The chord that runs through all of Guidi’s projects is his seemingly innate ability to convey intense emotional realities through his playing. Given the sensitivity of this effort, he enlists only the best musicians around, those “who know how to amaze me, surprise me every time, and push me into dangerous places,” he wrote. “The most exciting thing is when I can do those concerts where I can feel a complete sentimental connection with the audience.”

One of the beneficiaries of Guidi’s prolific output is ECM. Set for release in September, Roma, a 2018 concert recording, captures the pianist alongside Rava and saxophonist Joe Lovano; drummer Gerald Cleaver and Douglas round out the rhythm section.

“It was my first time playing with Joe, and every night was a different kind of adventure,” Guidi noted. “We played some of Rava’s and Lovano’s compositions—it was really an honor and a pleasure to play with [these] two giants.”

In these words, Guidi echoed a sentiment that all of these pianists voiced—an appreciation for the jazz greats who came before and helped them to develop as artists. From today’s vantage point, it’s hard to predict—but easy to imagine—that tomorrow’s pianists will return the honor to these wayfinding musicians. DB

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