19 September 2009

San Marco not square

Venice was a theme park hundreds of years before Disneyland was invented, but it’s a civilized theme park. Piazza San Marco is the delightful and glorious centre of Venice and, not surprisingly, it can be replete with visitors. I was once there for the famed final Carnevale night of Martedi grasso (Shrove Tuesday), and the crowds were expected and enjoyed, but mostly it’s just oppressive. But the nights can be a relief.

Along with a few minor masterpieces and the tourists, Piazza San Marco is also the home of some of the most fabulous cafes in the world, which vie with each other for custom through opulent surroundings and music presentations. The tourists line up behind the empty chairs for a free listen, and sometimes take the costly plunge of a coffee. The bands join the competition between cafes by alternating tunes, and the music seems to go on from evening to midnight. Mostly the bands are soft and classically smooth, playing latin or jazz or standards or gentle classics in a mild and romantic chamber style, but I caught some very capable jazzers playing at Grand Café Chioggia around the corner, opposite the Doge’s Palace.

These were just a few tunes before the midnight close (Take the A Train and St Thomas), but there was verve and inventiveness that belied the location. The bass was committed and hard swinging and well in touch with the soloists, the sax was sweet in melodies but edgy in its solos, and the piano was strong in its solo conceptions, playing to the edge of dissonance and frequently dropping in. The sound was good, too, with a grand piano, and just a bit of reverb from the massive corridors and awnings that these bands perform from.

It was very nice to catch such a capable and exciting trio playing in a space which could be so bland. But Venice is a very, very civilized theme park. Dianelle Iabelli (piano), Piergiorgio Caveron (alto, soprano sax) and Roberto Veronese (bass) played at Grand Café Chioggia in Piazza San Marco in Venice.

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