The only thing that prevents tonight’s concert by Rhiannon Giddens and Francesco Turrisi from becoming a lecture is the absence of a projector.
This evening’s show traverses a vast musical landscape that not only encompasses Giddens’ back catalogue but also draws up sounds and influences that both span hundreds of years as well as several continents.
Both the beautiful Ten Thousand Voices and the heart-breaking At the Purchaser’s Option are early highlights of the set. Whilst the traditional sounds utilised in Briggs’ Foro brings together the perfect marriage of banjo and accordion music.
Drawing from Francisco’s homeland, Pizzica di San Vito, sees Giddens singing in a language which is not her native tongue whilst Turrisi’s incendiary Tamburello rhythm illustrates a style of music which was once used to cure the bites of poison spiders in Southern Italy. Although the audience refrains from participating in the trance dancing this time around.
Whilst both Giddens and Turrisi are both conservatory-trained musicians, each specialised in their own respective areas. Whilst Rhiannon studied opera, Francesco pursued jazz, improvisational piano and baroque/renaissance music. In this respect, things take a slightly different direction mid-set as they perform an operatic aria by Henry Purcell in the shape of Dido’s Lament.
The jazz/blues groove of Ethel Waters’ Underneath Our Harlem Moon is one of the highlights of the second half of the show.
Having heard I’m On My Way performed live this evening it’s easy to understand why it has been recently nominated for a Grammy award. However, we will have to wait until January to see the outcome of this prestigious recognition.
Turrisi, in particular, is incredibly knowledgeable about the tambourine or Tamburello as it is known in his native Italy. Despite this, during the many hundreds of shows that this writer has seen at the Sage Gateshead, tonight is the only time in recollection that the audience has been treated to a tambourine solo. There’s been numerous drum, guitar and bass solos – but never tambourine. However, there is a first time for everything and tonight Turrisi rather enthusiastically proves that the aforementioned piece of percussion is, in fact, a serious and respectable instrument.
The show takes a Celtic turn with the inclusion of the up-tempo Molly Brannigan, which is vocally challenging for Giddens as the pace persistently increases. Whilst a spiritually tinged rendition of He Will See You Through brings the main set to a close.
Tonight both Rhiannon Giddens and Francisco Turrisi proves that both their talent and knowledge knows no bounds. This versatile pair of artists are scholars of music, history, culture and instrumentation. And during a thoroughly enjoyable almost two hours of music, the pair enlightens the audience at the Sage Gateshead with insight into both the songs that they perform along with the multitude of musical contraptions at their disposal.