Mafalda Minnozzi reinvents the music of Italian cinema on CINEMA CITY – Jazz Scenes from Italian Film
Acclaimed singer Mafalda Minnozzi’s latest disc, Cinema City – Jazz Scenes from Italian Film, intimately unveils a new side to the artist as she explores the Italian cinematic songbook. Jazz music has long been inspired by the silver screen.
Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” and Johnny Mandel’s “The Shadow of Your Smile” are hallmarks of jazz repertoire, and The Sound of Music’s “My Favorite Things” remains one of John Coltrane’s most enduring performances. On Cinema City, Mafalda Minnozzi mixes the songbook of her native Italy with a particular flavor of the language of jazz.
After Minnozzi’s critically acclaimed and chart-topping 2020 release Sensorial – Portraits in Bossa and Jazz, recorded in New York and dedicated to Brazil’s great composers, Cinema City seems like quite the stylistic shift, but the new Minnozzi’s recording is in many ways a continuation of his consummate sensibility informed by his travels and worldly experiences between Italy, Brazil and New York.
Minnozzi’s adventurous improvisations play against lush harmonies throughout the record alongside sonic innovations characteristic of Italian soundtracks. This carefully curated collection of music offers something new for Cinema City’s stellar special guests as they explore creative arrangements that occasionally blend Italy’s signature use of baritone electric guitar and organ with a classical quartet, and at other times, recall the work of Miles Davis. and Gil Evans, who reframed Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess and Spanish classical music within a framework of moody jazz improvisation.
While planning and recording the album in Brazil during the COVID-19 lockdown, Minnozzi reflected on how the project became personal as it provoked hidden memories of her. “It occurred to me that just as the character of Totò, from Cinema Paradiso, revisited his life through excerpts from the films he had grown up with, I too sang these songs as if they were scenes from life. They reconnected me with what they meant to me from childhood through my artistic evolution,” Minnozzi shares. ‘Henry Mancini “Loss of Love”, all the music of Cinema City has accompanied the singer through the various peaks and valleys of her life.
Cinema City begins with “La Dolce Vita,” Nino Rota’s signature song from Federico Fellini’s 1960 film of the same name. Combining a touch of New Orleans, this joyous opener features the great Graham Haynes on flugelhorn and sets highlighting Minnozzi’s expert scat singing. “This piece reminded me of the many lunches I’d sat across from Fellini in a little Roman cafe we both frequented, and the quick conversation and courteous nods we exchanged with a smile,” recalls Minnozzi. Haynes is also featured on “Amici Miei” which comes from the cult film of the same name and evokes Minnozzi’s childhood memories of growing up in the back of his father’s restaurant in Italy.
Another highlight is “Cinema Paradiso,” which features special guest NEA Jazz Master Dave Liebman. For those familiar with the film, it’s impossible to hear Morricone’s title track without being swept away by its emotional beauty and power. Augmented by drummer Ricardo Mosca’s tasteful Afro-Latin percussion, Liebman and Minnozzi together create a positively hypnotic atmosphere that is both meditative and explosive. In addition to the title track, Minnozzi covers two other Cinema Paradiso songs including “Se” and the closer album “Maturity”. The film has special meaning for Minnozzi. In 1996, she was invited to perform at Paradiso, a club in Rio de Janeiro modeled on the film. That short engagement (which culminated in her 1996 album Uma Noite no Paradiso II) began the singer’s more than 25-year relationship with Brazil, which has become her second home.
Pianist Art Hirahara joins the organ for five tunes. The first feature is “Anonimo Veneziano”, which comes from the 1970 film about the loving reconciliation of a past love at the end of a life. The richness of the story gives Minnozzi all the dramatic inspiration she needs to soar, as this tune perfectly exemplifies her ability to turn heads with her remarkably dynamic and melodic range. Prolific composer Stelvio Cipriani, who often listened to the singer perform at the famed La Cabala club, displays a quintessentially Italian sensibility in his songwriting as the song undergoes multiple tonal shifts while maintaining an organic, natural vibe. The second feature for Hirahara is “E La Chiamano Estate”, which was one of the first songs to pull Minnozzi towards jazz. Its composer, Bruno Martino, is best known in jazz circles for his classic “Estate”, but this lesser-known selection is just as emblematic of Italian jazz culture. Ricci’s jazz guitar gives a touch of Wes Montgomery which, combined with the classic sound of Hirahara’s organ ballad, aligns this melody with the great standards of American jazz clubs.
Trombonist Jorginho Neto joins ‘Arrivederci Roma’, reminiscent of Minnozzi’s time at the aforementioned La Cabala club. Made famous by Dean Martin in 1962, Minnozzi updates this classic gem with both a Brazilian Gafieira and a Latin jazz accent. Once again, an unlikely film theme serves as the perfect vehicle for improvisation, and his time spent as a shining star in the Roman nightclub allows him to deliver that lyric with a penetrating touch of irony and soul. Another standout moment is “Nella Fantasia,” which features the incredible Luca Aquino on flugelhorn. Inspired by Sketches of Spain, this version for quintet captures the nuances of timbre of the orchestra in a small group with delightful interplay. It’s also a personal selection for Minnozzi, as “Nella Fantasia” was his wedding song.
Each track in Cinema City sets its own mood for the listener, and the skillful arrangements act as a creative springboard for brilliant improvisation. Freeing himself from the more obvious classical or popular approach for which these songs are known, Minnozzi takes full advantage of his dramatic interpretive power, sublime vocal range and cosmopolitan perspective to present his singular take on these timeless compositions. “This album is a tribute to how the poetic power of music can change a life. The songs of Cinema City connected me to my memories. Combined with the band’s brilliant playing, I was able to find a freedom that I had never felt before,” she says. “Uncovering this inner voice, I tapped into a deep emotional well and felt a newfound peace as I looked back on my life.”
Minnozzi’s exquisite musical offering is available on all platforms, including Bandcamp. You can buy it here.