Kekko Fornarelli ‘Abaton’ LP/CD/DIG (Eskape) 4/5

It is fitting that in the same year that EST’s “Live in London” is released, commemorating ten years since the untimely passing of Esbjörn Svensson, an album comes to the fore from an up-and-coming artist that conjures up fond memories of the late pianist.

Kekko Fornarelli is an Italian pianist and composer. He began learning classical piano the age of three, first through private tuition and later at the Conservatorio Piccinni in Bari. With a love for jazz burning brightly since he turned 18, it’s easy to hear clear influences from both these worlds in his melodic and stylistic approach to making music. Fornarelli already has 4 albums under his belt, his luscious fusion of Romantic classical music, modern jazz and 21st century rhythms all combining to create a quite gorgeous swirl of emotive sound.

“Abaton” is a trio recording, featuring Federico Pecoraro on bass and Dario Congedo on drums. The threesome work their way with effortless grace through the 8 tunes on this album. In the main it’s Fornarelli’s beautiful acoustic piano playing at the fore, though he does employ synth sounds and a few subtle electronics along the way. The trio work very well together, with some skilful interplay and close-knit interaction. In addition to the trio, there are also strings featured on 2 of the tracks, featuring conductor Leo Gadaleta. And I have to say these 2 tracks feature very highly in my estimation, the combination of Fornarelli’s lyrical piano playing alongside the strings is a magical experience, way beyond the normal ‘trio with strings’ combinations one might expect.

There are some stunning pieces of music on this album. The 2 aforementioned strings tracks “Apnea” and the title track “Abaton” are both highly emotive pieces of music, wonderfully written and performed, leaving me longing to hear more. I feel a rush of emotion each time I listen to these wonderful tunes. “The Drop and The Rock”, the opening tune, is very ‘EST’ and can’t but help remind the listener of what once came before. There is also an incredible version of Beck’s “Lonesome Tears”, with Fornarelli managing to match the original’s strength and power with a magnificent lyrical quality that rises and falls between delicate and vibrant, bringing every fibre in my body into a kinetic and animated appreciation.

Occasionally one might argue that the pianist allows his trio to slip a little into the ‘slightly too familiar’ piano trio expected territory, but overall this is one of the finest trio albums to my mind this year.

The spirit of Esbjörn Svensson lives on, in his music and in the undoubted influence he made on the jazz world, blazing a trail that others now follow and reinvent.

Mike Gates