Acclaimed singer Mafalda Minnozzi’s latest album, Cinema City – Jazz Scenes from Italian Film, intimately reveals a new side of the artist as she explores the Italian cinematic songbook. Jazz music has long drawn inspiration from the silver screen.
Charlie Chaplin‘s “smile” and Johnny Mandel‘s “The Shadow of Your Smile” are hallmarks of jazz repertoire, and “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music remains one of John Coltrane’s most enduring performances. On Cinema City, Mafalda Minnozzi interweaves the songbook of her native Italy with an unmistakable flair of jazz language.
After Minnozzi’s critically acclaimed and chart-topping 2020 release Sensorial – Portraits in Bossa and Jazz, which was recorded in New York City and dedicated to Brazil’s great composers, Cinema City seems like quite the stylistic shift , but Minnozzi’s new recording is in many ways a continuation of her consummate sensibility shaped by her worldly travels and experiences between Italy, Brazil and New York City.
Minnozzi’s adventurous improvisations play with lush harmonies throughout the record along with characteristic sonic innovations characteristic of Italian soundtracks. This carefully curated music collection offers Cinema City’s outstanding special guests something new as they explore creative arrangements that at times blend iconic Italian use of baritone electric guitar and organ with a classical quartet, and at other times are reminiscent of Cinema City’s work miles davis and Gil Evans, who is known to have reinterpreted Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess and classical Spanish music in a moody jazz-improv setting.
While planning and recording the album in Brazil during the COVID-19 lockdown, Minnozzi reflected on how personal the project became as it brought up some hidden memories of her. “It occurred to me that just like the character Totò from Cinema Paradiso was reliving his life through the clips from the movies he grew up watching, I was singing those songs as if they were scenes from life. They reconnected me with what they meant from childhood throughout my artistic development,” Minnozzi shares. Except for the English poetry about which little is known Henry Mancini Composition “Loss of Love” accompanied the entire music on Cinema City the singer through various ups and downs of her life.
Cinema City starts with “La Dolce Vita”, the icon Nino Rota decide by vote Federico Fellini‘s 1960 film of the same name. Combining a touch of New Orleans, this upbeat opener features the great Graham Haynes on flugelhorn and prominently features Minnozzi’s expert scat singing. “This track made me think back to the many lunches I had across the street from Fellini in a tiny Roman cafe we both frequented, and the quick conversations and polite nods we exchanged with smiles,” muses Minnozzi. Haynes also stars in Amici Miei, adapted from the cult film of the same name, which brings back Minnozzi’s childhood memories of growing up in the backyard of her father’s restaurant in Italy.
Another highlight is “Cinema Paradiso”, with special guest NEA Jazz Master Dave Liebman. For those familiar with the film, it is impossible to hear Morricone’s title track without being transported into its emotional beauty and power. Complemented by the tasteful Afro-Latin percussion of drummer Ricardo Mosca, Liebman and Minnozzi together create a positively hypnotic atmosphere that is simultaneously meditative and explosive. In addition to the title track, Minnozzi takes on two other songs from Cinema Paradiso, including “Se” and the album closeout “Maturity”. The film has a special meaning for Minnozzi. In 1996, she was invited to perform at Paradiso, a Rio de Janeiro club modeled after the film. This brief engagement (which spawned in her 1996 album Uma Noite no Paradiso II) began the singer’s more than 25-year relationship with Brazil, which became her second home.
pianist Art Hirahara follows on the organ for five melodies. The first feature film is Anonimo Veneziano, adapted from the 1970 film about the romantic reconciliation of a past love at the end of a lifetime. The richness of the story gives Minnozzi all the dramatic inspiration she needs to soar, as this tune perfectly illustrates her ability to turn heads with her remarkably dynamic and melodic range. Prolific composer Stelvio Cipriani, who often listened to the singer at the famous club La Cabala, displays a distinctly Italian sensibility in his writing, as the song goes through several key changes while still maintaining an organic, natural mood. The second feature for Hirahara is “E La Chiamano Estate,” one of the first songs that attracted Minnozzi to jazz. Its composer Bruno Martino is best known in jazz circles for his classic “Estate,” but this lesser-known selection is just as iconic in Italian jazz culture. Ricci’s jazz guitar conveys a touch of Wes Montgomery which, combined with Hirahara’s classic organ ballad tones, brings this tune in line with the grand standards of the American jazz club.
Trombonist Jorginho Neto joins “Arrivederci Roma,” which recalls Minnozzi’s time at the aforementioned Club La Cabala. Made famous by Dean Martin In 1962, Minnozzi updates this classic jewel with a Brazilian gafieira and a Latin jazz accent. Once again, an unlikely film theme serves as the perfect vehicle for improvisation, and her time spent as a shining star in Rome’s nightclub allows her to deliver these lyrics 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 quintet version captures the sonic nuances of the orchestra in a small group with boisterous interplay. This is also a personal choice for Minnozzi, as “Nella Fantasia” was her wedding song.
Each track on Cinema City conveys its own mood to the listener, and the skillful arrangements serve as a creative springboard for brilliant improvisation. Breaking away from the more obvious classical or popular approach these songs are known for, Minnozzi takes full advantage of her dramatic interpretive power, elevated vocal range and cosmopolitan perspective to present her unique take on these timeless compositions. “This album is a tribute to how the poetic power of music can change lives. The songs on Cinema City connected me to my memories. Combined with the band’s brilliant playing, I was able to find a freedom I had never felt before. ” She says. “As I discovered this inner voice, I drew from a deep emotional source and experienced a new found peace as I look back on my life.”
Minnozzi’s exquisite range of music is available on all platforms including Bandcamp. You can buy it Here.