For quite a few of the early years of this century, Italian artist Maria Mazzotta was the vocalist for the estimable Canzionere Grecanico Salentino, using her powerful but supple voice on their songs. She has branched out in a couple of directions since, in a collaboration with the Toulouse group Pulcinella on Grifone and also a 2020 solo release, Amoreamaro. Together they showcase very different sides of her personality.
The French quartet play some very credible taranta on the opener, “Pizzircarella,” which allows Mazzotta to open her throat and demonstrate what she can do, and she hasn’t lost a step over the years. It’s powerful; a beautifully dry piece that pulsates with power.
From there, it’s quite a twisted course. There’s the Eurojazz bounciness of “Avanti,” or “Bella Ci Dormi,” which crosses musette and fado in a subdued backing that offers Mazzotta the chance to shine in a sophisticated, emotive performance. “Lule Te Bukura Ka Tirana La Griffure” takes the ensemble to Albania.
Wherever they travel everything on Grifone is a magnificent achievement, and Pulcinella always strike exactly the right note and mood, capturing the feel and never intruding on the vocals.
Amoreamaro (2020) is an exploration, and sometimes a celebration, of love. It is a far more stripped-down affair, with Mazzotta’s voice accompanied by accordion, and sometime a drum. But it never feels too spare. The two musicians fill the space, but also ensure there’s plenty of room for Mazzotta’s to display her full emotional range. You can hear it in the opening track, “Vorei Volare,” which runs the gamut from roaring taranta to something approaching chanson.
But it finds its zenith on one of the most subdued cuts, “No Potho Reposare,” where piano replaces accordion, and the intimacy of the singing and music combine to become almost heartbreaking. Almost as simple as it gets, but utterly stunning in its stark presentation.
The title track increases the sonic palette, using darker accordion tones and underpinned by the deep breathy drone of didgeridoo, before exploding from monochrome into colour with the addition of drums and a vocal that is a reminder of the raw power she brought to CGS – and all with plenty of neatly tricky studio production. Not only different to everything else on the album, but also a musical masterpiece.
The fragile close. “Te Nun Me Piaci Più,” is a brief snippet where accordion is replaced by guitar, sweetly off-the-cuff and a hopeful, calmer end to a rapturous disc. Listen to both these albums and find the sheer musical pleasure inside. – Chris Nickson
Maria Mazzotta online