Monday, June 19, 2017

Roman Holiday...

Photo of Deborah Swain by Valentina Mazzei
Almost ten years after starting this blog back in 2007, I’ve decided that Living in Rome is officially on an extended hiatus. You will still be able to read and search for past reviews of concerts, art exhibitions and other cultural events in the Eternal City. Thank you to everyone who dropped by and read and commented on posts.

Meanwhile, come find me on Instagram or Twitter for more about Rome.


Friday, November 27, 2015

Gregory Porter at Roma Jazz Festival

Sala Sinopoli, Auditorium Parco della Musica - 14 November, 2015

The 39th edition of the Roma Jazz Festival began in the immediate aftermath of the recent Paris terrorist attacks, so it was perhaps inevitable that the shock waves of those events were still reverberating when the Gregory Porter Quintet took to the stage less than 24 hours later for the highly anticipated opening concert at Rome's annual Jazz fest. After a minute's silence dedicated to the victims, followed by spontaneous applause, the band appeared to cheers from the audience, cheers that transformed into an enormous roar when the man in the hat himself appeared and launched into an heartfelt Someday We'll All Be Free. Elegantly acknowledging what had happened in Paris the night before with a handful of carefully chosen words – “It is what it is...all we can do is pray...and let it be” – he swiftly moved on with On My Way to Harlem, a perfect marriage of soul and jazz that set the tone for what would be a thrilling concert.

Meeting Gregory Porter in Rome!
I came away from his last performance in Rome with a slightly obsessive determination to convert everyone I know into a Gregory Porter fan. And once again I was astounded by the sheer beauty of hearing Porter's baritone voice live and in person. I truly believe he is the greatest voice of our generation. I would happily pay good money to hear him sing my shopping list! Thankfully, the material he sings is also very, very good as he is a brilliantly versatile song writer. While the concert included some wonderful covers, such as the evening's opener by Donny Hathaway, as well as an exquisite version of Imitation of Life with Chip Crawford on piano, and the crowd-pleasing Motown classic Papa Was a Rollin' Stone (introduced by way of a thrilling virtuoso display by Jahmal Nichols on double bass), the rest of the evening was a showcase for Gregory Porter compositions. Ranging from the impassioned and political 1960 What? and Musical Genocide to the unabashed romanticism of Hey Laura and Illusion, his songs are always underpinned by thoughtful and surprising lyrics, lyrics that tell a story. Switching arrangements during live shows he has the knack of making his familiar songs sound new, while brand new songs sound like instant classics. In fact, the Rome audience was treated to a mesmerizing performance shot though with pure gospel of a new song - Take Me to the Alley – that he explained had been partly inspired by Pope Francis' recent visit to New York.

As usual Gregory Porter was accompanied by an extraordinary group of musicians and his delight in their engaging musical solos was evident. Joining the previously mentioned Crawford on piano and Nichols on bass, were talented percussionist Emanuel Harrold, and amazing trumpet player Keyon Harrold, who was seen in Rome last summer alongside D'Angelo during the Luglio Suona Bene concert season.

Returning to the stage to thunderous applause for an encore Porter remarked “I had fun tonight” before closing the show with a gorgeous, slowed down Painted on Canvas. Just perfect. Gregory Porter is a consummate performer at the very top of his game – miss him at your peril.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The highs and lows of the Rome Film Fest 2015

16 - 24 October 2015 at the Auditorium Parco della Musica

One of the earliest changes announced by Antonio Monda as new artistic director of Rome's annual film festival was that the 2015 edition would no longer be a cinema “festival” but would instead return to its origins as a “Festa del Cinema”. In truth, the Rome Film Festival has always felt like a festa, with its tradition of showcasing major Hollywood movies alongside lesser known art house films and documentaries, with intimate encounters with actors and directors a must-see staple of the programme every year. What was palpably clear right from the start of this year's 10th anniversary edition of the kermesse, however, was that the well publicised decimation of the festival budget meant that there would be very few big names on the red carpet with enough star power to draw the crowds witnessed in previous editions.

Certainly, day one got off to a rocky start when Joel Coen and Frances McDormand, the first highly anticipated guests of the “Close Encounters” series of on stage interviews with Antonio Monda, descended from their limousine and stormed, long-faced, up the red carpet like two bats out of hell, with ne'er a glance at the handful of fans who had been patiently waiting for their arrival in the hope that they would stop and sign autographs. As much as I enjoyed the actual encounter, it was undeniably soured by having witnessed the couple's snubbing of their fans, an attitude that was only reconfirmed when they rushed from the stage immediately at the end of the event ignoring the admirers that rushed the stage to greet them. The big event on day two was a much publicised encounter with British actor Jude Law. The sold-out event was an entertaining journey through Law's career and the actor seemed in a relaxed mood as he chatted with Monda, but again fans were left disappointed when the star made no appearance at all on the red carpet and was whisked rapidly off stage at the end of the interview. No red carpet, no party. Thankfully, Ellen Page braved torrential rain on day three to greet fans, take selfies and sign autographs before the screening of Freeheld.

Antonio Monda, Dario Argento and William Friedkin #RomaFF10
Donna Tartt, Antonio Monda and Wes Anderson
After a low key first weekend, however, day four saw some wonderful on stage encounters – author Donna Tartt joined director Wes Anderson (who was swamped by hundreds of young fans along the red carpet) in a sparkling conversation about Italian cinema, with both writer and filmmaker clearly delighting in each other's company, whilst old friends Italian horror movie maestro Dario Argento chatted with Academy Award winning director William Friedkin about each other's work in cinema and opera. The Walk 3D was the Hollywood movie of the evening – neither Zemeckis, nor Gordon-Levitt made the trip to Rome, but what could be more thrilling than meeting Philippe Petit, the original Man on Wire himself, along the red carpet?!

Other personal highlights of the cinefest were the Close Encounter with the brilliant Todd Haynes, in Rome to present the mesmerizing Carol; the conversation chaired by Mario Sesti with Chilean director, screenwriter, and producer Pablo Larraín before the screening of the utterly stunning film El Club; and finally, the intimate and rewarding Masterclass with the director Paul Weitz, who discussed his hugely enjoyable movie Grandma with Claudio Masenza as part of Alice nella Città, an independent and parallel section of the Rome Film Fest, dedicated to young adults.

Paul Weitz and Claudio Masenza #RomaFF10

Here's hoping that next year's festival/festa will see the return of a little more Hollywood glamour, and the fun and excitement of earlier editions, and most importantly, will attract cinema goers of all persuasions, not just film buffs and cinephiles.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Electrifying! D’Angelo and the Vanguard at Luglio Suona Bene

D'Angelo and the Vanguard on stage in Rome
When a singer releases a comeback album entitled Black Messiah after a fourteen year hiatus, and then takes that album on the road as The Second Coming Tour, he is clearly being provocative. But when that artist is as charismatic and talented as D’Angelo, whose artistic return from the wilderness has been welcomed as nothing short of a miracle by fans and critics alike, it is very easy to forgive the hyperbole. Black Messiah is an enigmatic and utterly addictive gem of an album. The man himself came blazing into town yesterday evening backed by his 10-piece band The Vanguard in an electrifying performance at the Auditorium Parco della Musica that amply demonstrated why he’s still the undisputed king of neo-soul.

What was wonderfully apparent throughout the evening was that this consummate showman appeared to be so happy to be back. On one of the hottest and steamiest nights of the year, D’Angelo must have broken some kind of record for getting the audience up and dancing – a minute into the opening song Ain’t That Easy, the Auditorium security guards were powerless to block the rush of fans to below the stage, where they stayed throughout the show, exchanging kisses, handshakes and fist bumps with D’Angelo.

The setlist was presented as one continuous flow of music, with musical interludes between songs from not only Black Messiah, but also from his first two albums, Brown Sugar and Voodoo as well. There was very little chat – only The Charade was introduced formally, by a hooded D’Angelo in the most overtly political moment of the show, with a dedication to victims of police brutality everywhere and an invitation to raise our fists in the air. D’Angelo is an artist who wears his musical inspirations on his sleeve, so there were instantly recognisable nods to James Brown in the counting out of the vamps in main set closer Sugar Daddy, and also to Prince in his dexterous use of falsetto, not to mention the densely layered guitars played by erstwhile Prince guitarist Jesse Johnson.

D’Angelo is no stranger to building audience anticipation, and there was a protracted wait before he returned to the stage for the closing encore, where he playfully teased us with feints and false starts at the beginning of Untitled (How Does It Feel). This turned out to be a glorious fifteen minute farewell, that saw each member of the band – including the legendary Pino Palladino on bass guitar - enjoy a brief moment in the spotlight, then leave the stage, one by one, until D’Angelo was finally left alone at the keyboards.

An amazing show by an extraordinary performer - miss him at your peril!

Full set list:
• Ain’t That Easy
• Vanguard Theme
• Betray My Heart
• Spanish Joint
• Claire Fisher – Interlude
• Really Love
• The Charade
• Brown Sugar
• Sugah Daddy
• Drum solo by Chris Dave
• Untitled (How Does it Feel)

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Impeccable performance by Bob Dylan and his Band at the Terme di Caracalla

Bob Dylan and his Band at the Terme di Caracalla
I’ve lived in Rome for over a decade and yet for some reason I had never visited the Terme di Caracalla, the spectacular ruins of the Roman public baths. During the summer months the Rome Opera House presents an outdoor programme of opera, dance, and contemporary music events at the Terme, so last night I finally got to see them as the most extraordinary setting for Bob Dylan and his Band in concert. There is always a palpable air of excitement before any Dylan show, but wandering slowly through the grounds of the Terme before the show, and waiting patiently for showtime as dusk slowly descended into darkness, was a magical experience. And then, right on time, the man himself appeared on stage, dapper in dark suit and white hat, and was met by an immediate standing ovation by the entire audience. As he launched into Things Have Changed it was clear that Dylan was in fine voice, and the band were as tight and rhythmic as ever. The sound was perfectly balanced - the venue was not only beautiful, but also possessed remarkably good acoustics. This was going to be a wonderful evening!

When Bob Dylan last played in Rome in 2013 he confounded pundits by performing a totally mixed bag of songs from his long career, instead of presenting the carefully honed and mostly unchanging setlist of more recent material that has been the staple of recent tours. I was lucky enough to attend the first of those two Rome shows and was thrilled and totally surprised by the evening. When I heard that His Bobness was returning to Rome, however, my secret wish was that I would finally get to hear “The Set”. With last night’s concert my wish came true with no less than six songs taken from his 2012 album Tempest, including very powerful performances of Scarlet Town and Pay in Blood. In fact, the setlist was an absolute joy from start to finish. I loved Forget Heart (from Together Through Life), while the new arrangement of Workingman's Blues #2 – always a favourite track of mine from Modern Times – was another highpoint. There were few concessions to the casual fan, but the only older tracks were absolutely stunning. It was a thrill to hear Tangled Up In Blue and Simple Twist Of Fate from his 1975 classic Blood on the Tracks sung with such impeccable vocals and with gorgeous harmonica breaks. Both halves of the concert were closed with exquisite showstoppers from his latest album of Sinatra covers Shadows in the Night. Even the heavens seemed to be in league with Bob yesterday, as the (not quite full) moon rose in time for Full Moon And Empty Arms at the end of the first half of the show, a performance only matched in its melancholy longing by the final song of the second set Autumn Leaves.

Security was exceptionally tight throughout the show with strictly no photos or standing allowed, in fact an early attempt to rush the stage during Long And Wasted Years was immediately blocked. The first encore of Blowin' in the Wind, however, saw the entire audience on its feet and a mass rebellion – there was huge a surge towards the stage and a sea of cameras and smartphones suddenly lit up the arena! This was followed by a blistering rendition of Love Sick to close an unforgettable concert.

Full setlist:

1. Things Have Changed
2. She Belongs To Me
3. Beyond Here Lies Nothin'
4. Workingman's Blues #2
5. Duquesne Whistle
6. Waiting For You
7. Pay In Blood
8. Tangled Up In Blue
9. Full Moon And Empty Arms
10. High Water (For Charley Patton)
11. Simple Twist Of Fate
12. Early Roman Kings
13. Forgetful Heart
14. Spirit On The Water
15. Scarlet Town
16. Soon After Midnight
17. Long And Wasted Years
18. Autumn Leaves
19. Blowin' In The Wind
20. Love Sick

Full band:
Bob Dylan - piano, harp
Tony Garnier - bass
George Recile - drums
Stu Kimball - rhythm guitar, maracas
Charlie Sexton - lead guitar
Donnie Herron - banjo, electric mandolin, pedal steel, lap steel

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