Music, Art and dreamy landscapes in colourful unison

Written by | Festivals, Jazz Travels, News

I recently found out after a heritage DNA test that I am 10% Sardinian. This came as a total surprise and soon after having been to Alghero, the beautiful port town on the north of the Italian island, the singular town with an immense history and an incredible identity.

I was, admittedly, taken aback and happy at the same time. Visiting and staying in Alghero to cover the musical and cultural exchange aptly called “Sardinian Extravaganza” at the end of last month, everything, and I mean everything, was perfect from the music to the landscapes to the food to the sheer hospitality and kindness of the people.

We, myself and my trusted photographer Carl Hyde, arrived in Alghero a day prior to the gig that would be played at the famous Poco Loco Jazz Club. We then attended the Press Conference set up at Alghero airport. As airports go, this was a place full of light and bright colours, and in particular, the room, where all the press was taken, was spacious and had an enormous window. Throughout the conference, I could also see in the not too far distance outside on the tarmac, planes taking off and landing. What an incredible setting!

So our “Sardinian Extravaganza” started with great pace at Alghero airport with a panel that needs highlighting. An exchange between two islands, namely the United Kingdom and Sardinia (or Sardegna in Italian), two symbols representing extraordinary forces in music and art, and two of the towns in question for this exchange: Alghero and London. Thanks to the many sponsors like Easyjet, Sogeaal (the management company for Alghero Airport) as well as JazzAlguer, Theatralia, Pizza Express Jazz Club, Poco Loco Jazz Club, we must also mention the people, those remarkable individuals behind all organization and support for the musical events: Mario Bruno, Mayor of Alghero; Massimo Cadeddu, President of Fondazione Alghero; Filomena Campus, jazz artist and composer and the brain behind the famous Theatralia Jazz Festival; Ross Dines, Director of Pizza Express in Soho, London; Salvatore Maltana, musician and artistic coordinator of the JazzAlguer Festival (a monthly initiative led by Sardinian born Paolo Fresu, Italy’s great trumpet player); Massimiliano Saba, Director of Poco Loco Jazz Club in Alghero.

This article also features a brief video in Italian from the press conference courtesy of Alghero Council where the readers will be able to watch (and hopefully also follow in the original language) the Mayor of Alghero highlighting some of the crucial points of the bridging event.

As mentioned earlier, Alghero was going to play a lead part on the first of two stages of the “Extravaganza”. And so it did and in its special way it managed to give us indelible memories in our minds and hearts: from a boat trip to one of the pearls of the Mediterranean Sea visiting the mesmerizing Grotte di Nettuno (Neptune’s Grottoes) to a walk in the Centro Storico (Old Town) of Alghero, where we were told stories on how the corals are caught and then made into stunning pieces of jewellery. We watched with admiration how a raw piece of coral would become a smooth shade of red under the skilful hand of Davide at the magical shop called La Corallina. A short drive outside Alghero, our trusted and very patient driver, Salvatore, took us to the famous megalithic Nuragic site of Palmavera, one of the Alghero’s most visited Nuraghi (the Italian word for the tower-like constructions which typified these incredible structures, now protected by UNESCO and, in my opinion, absolute archeological gems. Onwards and upwards to the mind-blowing Capo Caccia, the protected area on the north-western side of Sardinia with stunning views from the top of the millennia old rock formation, people visit from afar to watch the breathtaking sunsets, there is something peaceful about the place. We were even treated by the atmospheric music that Maestro Francesco Scognamillo played for all of us from one of the hilltops. An exceptional spectacle!

And then the morning turned into lunch time and we were accompanied into Movida, a restaurant facing the Lungomare (seafront) of Alghero (not too far from our hotel) where the food and the simple act of eating were made into a singular experience. With several courses, each accompanied by its appropriate wine, a table composed of musicians, press and local dignitaries, our lunch was just the beginning of an experience reminding us how easily and effectively music can join the dots.

A little break and then on to soundcheck where all four musicians were impeccable: instruments and gadgets all plugged in and checked… they were all happy and off to a well deserved rest before the gig in the evening.

Time flies when one is having fun. Very true. A short time afterwards, we were all heading to Poco Loco Jazz Club where the sold out venue was getting ready to welcome us.  A mixed and expectant crowd, eating big pizzas “al taglio”, were curious to watch the two musicians from London, Orphy Robinson MBE (vibes and electronics) and Pat Thomas (piano, keys, electronics), aka Black Top as well as the two darlings of Alghero, suave duo Salvatore Maltana (double-bass) and Marcello Peghin (10-strings guitar).

Maltana and Peghin opened the show with “Paquito” (di Bonaventura), followed by an exuberant “Tarantella”, then two more tracks before giving the space to Black Top. Their stage presence, their charisma and personalities permeated the stage beautifully, the crowd watched and stared, clapped and waited patiently until the last notes were played before making any noise. Somehow the other noise, the one from the restaurant and bar staff serving at the tables seemed to disappear. That is how good they were. Maltana and Peghin transported us all into a different level. Their craft was one of soft and intense play: Peghin on his 10-strings guitar, a musician with a huge experience behind him, from jazz to classical music, composing as well as playing with other greats like Enrico Rava, Antonello Salis, Paolo Fresu, he managed to offer tender melodies followed by strong passionate notes. Maltana, also a composer, an arranger and a versatile player, having worked with other greats of the calibre of Gavino Murgia, Daniele di Bonaventura, Django Bates, Franca Masu, to name a few, immersed himself in a beautifully moving double-bass performance, striking his strings with a seemingly imperceptible touch. Poetical.

Enter Black Top, tall and confident in their stride, the stage looked like it could expand as they started playing. Theirs is the art of abstract form, improvisation and magical shapes. Attention to detail nevertheless was paramount. I watched the crowd at various moments of the whole gig, the music they perceived from the Robinson and Thomas duo was strikingly different, on a completely new level from the one they had just listened to. And this is where the interesting part occurred: at times not sure and almost on the verge of not really wanting to understand that new edge, Robinson’s vibes brought everyone back into the vast room of the club. A few heads nodded, a firm applause, and overall the crowd’s consent was there. Black Top, strong with improvisation and free jazz, it is like listening to the creation of the universe: irresistibly powerful.

And so it was that hidden corners and old façades of the historic Alghero town became even more memorable under the guide of Valeria Crabuzza, Director of Alghero Concierge. A woman with endless energy and knowledge. A very special thank you needs to be given to Dr Maria Giovanna Fara of Fondazione Alghero, for her continued help and invaluable support throughout our stay!

“Group photo the morning after the gig” (left to right: Erminia Yardley, Orphy Robinson, Valeria Crabuzza, Pat Thomas, Ruth Fisher (JazzFM), Ross Dines, Kevin Le Gendre (Jazzwise) and Carl Hyde © Carl Hyde

Pride and passion, some of the keywords and factors that also made this musical and cultural exchange possible because, as mentioned during the press conference, the importance of bridging countries and people has to become paramount in these politically dividing times.

London now awaits. Two dates on 13th and 14th November, two different line-ups at Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho where this writer will also be in attendance covering both gigs. With names like Cleveland Watkiss, Marta Capponi, Filomena Campus, Jackie Walduck, Rod Youngs, to name a few, the two days of music coming up will represent the best completion to the Sardinian Extravaganza.

“Carl Hyde as photographed by Ross Dines on location at Capo Caccia” © Dines/Hyde

“A Sardinian Extravaganza – London meets Alghero” – part of the Theatralia Jazz Festival is at Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London on 13h & 14th November.

A very special THANK YOU to Carl Hyde for his indispensable presence and work! I love the following photo, it captures Carl very well! My thanks to Ross Dines!

Writer: Erminia Yardley  Photo credits: Carl Hyde and Ross Dines

Last modified: October 25, 2018