Gabriel Bismut & Maurizio Minardi Le Chat Brel
Review by Carolina Amoruso
The playfully named Le Chat Brel is an arresting mélange of music inspired by a number of post-War and mid-century cultural trends, mostly in France and Italy. In essence it is the story of two ships, one laden with an accordion on deck (and a piano in storage), the other carrying a violin and viola, that set sail from Franco-Italian harbors, bumping from performance to performance in ports mostly European. They’d pass each other like the proverbial ships in the night until their captains came to see that they rode kindred waves, and a bond between them was cast. Maurizio Minardi, master of the keys, and Gabriel Bismut, master of the strings, are the two seafarers who vaunt their affinities on the album.
The curious title gives us a hint as to some of these affinities: “Chat” and “Brel,” when combined might bring to mind Claude Chabrol, one of the signature directors of the French Nouvelle Vague, groundbreakers in cinematic technique and engaged in social commentary. And Brel, of course, suggests the much venerated Francophone singer-songwriter, poet and gallant of Paris’s Bohemian set, Jacques Brel.
Italian Dopo Guerra cinema is channeled through references to the works of Federico Fellini, a genre unto himself of sensuality, irony, pathos, whose partnership with another of Minardi and Bismut’s muses, composer Nino Rota, spun magical visions. Also tapped is Rota contemporary, Ennio Morricone, best known for the music to Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns. Both composers’ breadth was worldwide and their oeuvre gargantuan.
Other influences abound. What could have been a goulash of kitchen sink ingredients overflowing the pot, instead results in a bouillabaisse of masterfully blended flavors. One can experience the subtle interludes of Barthélemy Seyer’s nylon-stringed guitar as saffron’s golden touch in the stew, and from Maurizio Congiu’s double bass, its bouillon, or savory underpinning. Their accompaniment provides elegance as cool as a chat, if you will.
"Le Coq Baroque"
Minardi’s composition “Le Coq Baroque” is the album’s opener. It serves up the immediacy and phrasing of Astor Piazzolla. Minardi’s accordion channels the maestro’s assertive and dizzying dynamics, while Bismut’s violin braids Baroque strands into the Piazzollan runs. His violin solo about halfway through is a scorcher. In brief passages of lush lyricism, the guitar reminds us that voluptuousness is an equal gift of Piazzolla’s nuevo tango.
"Fleur du Hazard"
Bismut’s composition, “Fleur du Hazard” scans a number of landscapes, from bucolic to bustling, with a more contemporary sound. It sighs, as of Spring, and slips along like an easy-flowing conversation, until a more heated exchange arises before the bucolic is summoned once again. The guitar becomes a more pronounced partner here, smooth and assured, and gently marking the tune’s pulse, while Bismut, in the quick of things, tweaks a wake-up thimble-full of acerbic dissonances up high on the neck of his violin.
“Marcello” could only be a paean to Marcello Mastroianni, Fellini’s alter-ego in 2 of his greatest films, “8 ½” and “La Dolce Vita,” thanks in great part to the actor’s brilliant interpretations, and Nino Rota’s scores. Minardi’s tune appropriates Rota’s trademark of setting down a simple motif as the main character’s calling card. The tune’s ear wormy tagline and the music of “Marcello” itself are quite lovely, spare and innocent with a soupçon of stealth, again like a cat.
Le Chat Brel is an uplifting and timely album, distilling its influences from the new-found free expression of the Post-War era into art that evokes memory as well as the invitation to create. Rota’s words of a number of years ago (he died in 1979) ring true in today’s world and they resonate with the satiety one feels upon listening to the eclectic, elegant Le Chat Brel: "When I'm creating at the piano, I tend to feel happy; but - the eternal dilemma - how can we be happy amid the unhappiness of others? I'd do everything I could to give everyone a moment of happiness. That's what's at the heart of my music."