Review: Daniela Mastrandrea’s Lo Specchio

I wrote a few days ago about Italian pianist, composer and arranger Daniela Mastrandea and her new album released later in May. The post generated a surprising amount of interest (always nice). As promised, here’s a fuller review of the entire album.

I’ve resisted listening to it until the past couple of days. I’d first thought that was down to me just being busy and disorganised. It now turns out I was doing myself a disservice (albeit privately). I think there might have been a different reason I’d held off from listening more intently to it – because it’s effect is crucifying on those of us treading the emotional high-wire.

On the one hand, her music’s simplicity tricks the listener into thinking what’s on offer is superficial. But, Daniela’s music illustrates her love of soulful and wistful melody. There’s a playful wizardry to her harmonic development meaning that listener expectations are subverted and the material always feels fresh. It is the way my assumptions are challenged in every track that makes this album a fascinating listen.

Be warned, this is undoubtedly music that will root out any underlying emotional instability and heave it out onto the table in front of you rendering you incapable of performing any of the more basic day-to-day functions.

In that way Lo Specchio is a surprisingly tough listen. But there is a narrative arc to the album which takes the listener on a surprising journey.

After the heartbreak in the title track, Dopo la tempesta purrs gently with a sweet and realistic kind of optimism. What’s at stake is revealed in Dentro me (this is the one to approach with care), after which the (lonely) developmental journey beings with Demos and progresses in La città dorme. Shifting restless harmonies abound in A testa bassa (released on 11th May), and a partial sense of triumphant in the gentle syncopation of Luce ovunque. From there on the music cycles through Sati- esque, Bach-chorale inspired tracks that edge us towards an uneasy resolution in the beautiful prayer Mare dentro.

Personally, this is where I would have liked the album to come to an end. The remaining three tracks – What Lovers Do, All Fall Down, and Too Good at Goodbyes – felt like slightly different material. A kind of epilogue to the main narrative, set in a future.

What I especially like as I listen to this, is the way the music feels as though its something I want to play. And something that I want to play. And it turns out that’s something of a strategy, I suspect. The sheet music is available for purchase on Daniela’s website. Canny.  

Daniel Mastrandrea‘s album Lo Specchio is released on 18th May. In addition to the title track already available on pre-release, A testa bassa will be available from 11th May.

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