To perform at the prestigious Birdland Jazz Club is certainly a challenge of epic proportions for any musician if we think of the names that have graced that stage through the years. Artists like Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Lester Young and illustrious guests of the club like Gary Cooper, Marylin Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Marlene Dietrich and Ava Gardner. To perform Italian pop songs on that stage could be considered almost a heresy by the purists of jazz. Yet the eMPathia Jazz Duo has been able not only to perform on the Birdland stage–and this year will mark their fourth presence–but to delight the audience with a rich repertoire that has included some Italian classics like Metti una sera a cena, Nessuno, Azzurro, Come prima, Arrivederc and Estate.
It’s hard to believe it until you listen to Mafalda Minnozzi singing, hard to believe it until you listen to Paul Ricci at the guitar. Their prodigious arrangements push you into a dimension that regardless of the language of the song, resonates with a universal sound. You can hear the sounds of the world and the stories of the ordinary people that the duo, like two wanderer storytellers, capture and elevate to poetry when they are on stage. And so it becomes clear that an Italian story can be told in a jazz, samba or bossa nova key without losing its intrinsic melodic nature, and that it can converse with worlds that only seem to be far away, welcoming a multicultural exchange. That’s why when we talk about the eMPathia Jazz Duo, we have to talk about a type of music that is authentically “world”.
This original concept comes from Mafalda Minnozi’s experiences. Born in Pavia, in the north of Italy, but raised in the Marche region, Mafalda is today a citizen of the world. Brazil adopted her almost 20 years ago and it turned her into a celebrity and its official ambassador of Italian music. “Brazil is a country that has given me so much,” Minnozzi tells us, “and by extension, has made me successful in Italy as well. Italy has embraced my artistic vision, especially with the eMPathia Jazz Duo. Recently we got the chance to perform in some of the most important jazz festivals in Italy, theUdin&Jazz (Jazz Festival in Udine), the Villa Celimontana Jazz Festival in Rome, the Summer Live Tones Festival in Naples (alongside New York pianist Art Hirahara), the Empoli Jazz Festival, and the Sant’Elpidio Jazz Festival that saw us performing with bassist Rubem Farias, percussionist Gilson Silveira and trumpetist Roberto Piermartire. It was a great year and as icing on the cake, the magazine JAZZ.IT, one of the most respected jazz outlets in Italy, named me one of the 10 best Italian jazz voices.”
Mafalda Minnozzi, is a true performer who reminds us of the big Italian divas of the 1960s like Caterina Valente, Mina, Ornella Vanoni, Iva Zanicchi and Milva, considered international artists at that time. “In the 60s we were braver than today,” says Minnozzi. “Those divas would often collaborate with authors overseas and they would invite them to perform in Italy. The music industry was different. I’m inspired by them, from the way that I perform on stage to the way I curate my moves and my outfits. I don’t do it for vanity, but because I consider the stage a sacred place. The artist needs to be surrounded by an aura of mysticism, the alchemy that can transport us from reality into a dimension of enchantment.”
It was definitely an enchanting occasion when Mafalda met Paul Ricci, the American soul of the duo, guitarist and composer, graduate of the New England Conservatory in Boston, who has been collaborating with some of the biggest names of the musical scene, artists like Astrud Gilberto, Bobby Sanabria, and Harry Belafonte, to name a few. Ricci’s passion for jazz, Brazilian and African music found in Mafalda’s voice the perfect instrument to express his genius and opened up the doors of the United States to the Italian singer. The duo has produced three solid albums already. eMPathia in 2015 was nominated for the Premio Tenco, one of the most important Italian awards for musicians, if not the most important. And then, Inside in 2016 and Cool Romantics, 2018, that were recorded in New York and produced by Grammy Award Winner, Jeff Jones.
The empathy that Mafalda and Paul are able to create when they are on stage is the same that I felt when I interviewed them. The enchantment starts way before they walk on stage, it’s an electrifying energy that fills the air. It must be that aura of magic that they communicate and that transmits a clear sensation that you are in the presence of two great artists and two great souls. That inspirational atmosphere wrapped us up when we met over a good glass of wine in a local place not far from that Birdland Jazz Club that has crowned them as leading artists of the New York jazz scene. We talked about their latest accomplishments, the new tour and the new album that they are about to record.
Let’s start by telling the audience who are the eMPathia Jazz Duo and what kind of music you embody.
Mafalda Minnozzi – “Our musical concept is based on the assumption that the borders of Italian music can be extended and that other ethnic influences can be integrated, all the while staying true to our sound that is rooted in jazz improvisation. We’re living at a time when we are commemorating the 30 years after the Fall of the Berlin Wall, and when music is more cosmopolitan than ever, fusing with many other styles. So we are living in a historical, political and social era that is absolutely inclusive. If we think about how badly Italy is living the migrant crisis and how in general, we have become hostile towards to those who are different, we see that it is important to send a message of inclusivity and acceptance through music.”
What genres and which authors do you interpret in your authentic world music?
MF – “When I sing some songs of the Brazilian maestro Antonio Carlos Jobim, or Vinicious de Moraes or Chico Buarque, as arranged by the musical genius of Paul Ricci, we can appreciate the classical music and the legacy that Italian music has gifted to the world. In jazz music this is always evident because classical music will always be the base of jazz. This is true even for the new performers. I can see people being moved when they listen to our European jazz, enriched by the more melodic accents that I as an Italian singer bring to our interpretations. We Italians have also an opera background. It is in our DNA. At least once in our lives we have listened to a Madama Butterfly or a Rigoletto for example. It is an aesthetic that represents Italian music in its vast spectrum, from the classical to the melodramatic, and even to the chamber music that is the base to our pop music.
What kind of repertoire will you bring on stage in New York this time around?
MF – “There will certainly be some surprises, but our setlist is always made up of Italian, Brazilian, French and English songs. You will always find at least a Dindi by Antonio Carlos Jobim, a song by Italian author Paolo Conte, one of maestro Ennio Morricone or of Edith Piaf. She is one of my idols. Songs like Metti una sera a cena by Ennio Morricone is a standard for our musical concept. Like him, some Italian musicians have ventured far beyond their musical borders and they have told stories that were so avant-garde in their time that in my opinion, they are even more current than the contemporary artists of today.”
On this note, what is your take on contemporary Italian music?
I don’t see that many courageous artists out there. And we can’t continue to advance our musical culture if we have completely forgotten about our past. In Italy, we have some tribal rhythms like the taranta and the tamurriata, that are now totally forgotten by the modern producers. For this reason, I’m so happy that Matera, a city in southern Italy, and a UNESCO World Heritage site, is the 2019 European Capital of Culture. Through Matera the world can get a taste of the folkloric musical tradition that we need to rediscover, it is still absolutely modern”
What can you tell us about your new CD and its musical direction?
Paul Ricci – “We love to play as a duo, but we are also pleasantly surprised and happy when we share our sound with some friends that are not just friends, but some of the most innovative musicians I’ve ever known. For example, here in New York we will be on stage with Rogério Boccato a genius Brazilian percussionist, Art Hirahata, an exceptional pianist, and Will Calhoun, a brilliant drummer. After recording three albums as a duo this time we’ve decided to expand our musical concept and color it with different shades. In the new record we will collaborate with Essiet Okon Essiet and Harvie S. as well as Hirahara, Boccato, Calhoun, Victor Jones. We record our CDs kind of with the same feeling that Miles Davis had when he would randomly encounter a musician that he liked, and he would tell him, “Tomorrow I’ll see you in the studio.” We never prepare an album, we go record a musical experience based on jazz improvisations.”
What other news and upcoming projects do you have in the pipeline?
PR – “We just launched a new video of the song Sacumdì Sacumdà, that is a cover of Nem Vem Que Não Tem, a Brazilian song composed by Carlos Imperial and recorded by the great Wilson Simonal. The song was already recorded by Italian singer Mina with lyrics by author Paolo Limiti, and it was a big success. We also had the chance to collaborate with Simonal’s son, Wilson Simoninha, who, like his father, is another extraordinary artist and it was a great honor for us. This year marks the song’s 50th anniversary, and we wanted to celebrate it with this cool video that has already passed 60,000 views on Youtube. Plus, it is being widely played on some of the most important music video channels in Brazil as well as on Radio Italia Solo Musica Italiana, and Video Italia Solo Musica Italiana. After this tour we’ll soon come back to New York as official performers for the next Columbus Day parade, and Mafalda will also have the honor of riding on a float in the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, representing modern Italian culture.”
Your musical adventures around the world seem never-ending. What are your fondest ambitions today? Is there a goal that you haven’t achieved yet?
MM – “Sometimes you embark on a journey where you can’t clearly foresee the destination. From my experience as an artist I can say that it is worthwhile taking some risks, take your time and don’t expect money and fame necessarily to come your way. It’s much more important to be able to gift your audience with a note of beauty. If we are able, even in a small way, to give that to our audience, we can consider ourselves happy and rewarded.”
Check here for the locations, dates and time of the eMPathia Jazz Duo New York Tour:
BIRDLAND JAZZ CLUB
Thu, Feb 7 @ 5:30PM
With special guest Rogerio Boccato
Fri, Feb 8 @ 7:00 PM
With special guest Art Hirahara
Sun, Feb 10 @ 7:00 PM
With special guest Art Hirahara
Fri, Feb 15 @ 7:00 PM
With special guest Art Hirahara
NYU CASA ITALIANA ZERILLI-MARIMÓ
Italian Cultural Center
Thu, Feb 28 @ 7:00 PM
With special guest Rogerio Boccato, Art Hirahara, Will Calhoun
ETCETERA ETCETERA RESTAURANT
Fri, March 1st @ 7:00 PM
With special guest Art Hirahara
For more info please visit: http://www.empathiajazz.com