From the moment you handle the CD case and carefully extract the liner notes, you know you are in for a very classy, modish experience with this trio comprised of Italian pianist Claudio Filippini, Swedish bass player Palle Danielsson and Finnish drummer Olavi Louhivouri. The glossy paper of the notes, the delightful stickers of album covers (far too beautiful to actually stick on anything), the mix of near-sepia and delicate colour photographs and, most satisfying of all, exquisite essays by Claudio and Daniela Floris.
All these features whet our appetite even before we listen. We read how Claudio couldn’t believe he had been asked to play with two idols he had never met. How he was passing through a troubled period as a composer, how suddenly the very thought of working with Palle and Olavi strengthened and focussed him, like a compass pointing to the only true direction where you can align yourself – North – Facing North. Immediately we empathise with Claudio’s dilemma and anguish, and rejoice in its joyful resolution. And we are grateful for Daniela’s quiet shyness at being in their presence while recording, when she was dazzled by beauty, yet able to describe a wonderful experience to us.
Then you listen, holding your breath, hoping your expectations will be fulfilled. And they are, immeasurably. The overwhelming impression this album leaves you with is joy. From the happy, smiling, cover photo to the final chord, this album is suffused with love, hope and a sense that strength, once received, never leaves you. There are six beautiful compositions by Claudio, a Henry Mancini, two Gershwins, the best Brian Wilson song ever (God Only Knows) and Adele’s song Chasing Pavements. The piano is a beautifully toned Steinway from the 1920s, the studio sound is warm and calm.
Maybe it is not co-incidental that the opening track is Nothing to Lose with its subtle, cautious start, then growing confidence. The heart-breaking bass leaves you in no doubt that this is a very special session, this track was recorded in one take. The title track Facing North sings and swings, suffused with Bill Evans-like gentle harmonies, as if Palle brought something of the master with him from 1965 Stockholm and Claudio has picked it up, so subtly. Everything is subtle and ethereal on this album, as if you can’t quite believe it is happening. They recorded it in low lighting and that must have added to the atmosphere. Landscape opens with a shimmering terrain, gently rolling hills traced by the piano while the bass glides and soars serenely above it like a bird. This is a luxurious verdant landscape, nothing jarring here. The subtle use of the celesta adds a magical icy touch to several tracks like Sonatina and Soaking and Floating.
What can you say about God only knows? The most perfect pop song ever written and here given a brittleness and fragility with ironic opening chords. Adele’s ambiguous Chasing Pavements is accorded great reverence, it is a lovely tune, rendered timeless here. Upbeat Modern Times closes the album sending us away feeling strong, optimistic, refreshed.
Claudio has indeed proved that he had nothing to lose and everything to gain in this perfect album. Highly recommended. I must thank Ermanno Basso for making it happen.
Claudio Filippini, piano, celesta
Palle Danielsson, double bass
Olavi Louhivuori, drums
Facing North is available on Cam Jazz and other places