Scenes from a recent Wednesday night at Mediterra:
A jazz trio – drummer Rick Fiori, guitarist Nick Harris, and keyboardist Roman Ivanov – play a soft bossa nova, the guitarist intent, his head bent forward as he builds his solo.
A couple – he bespectacled, earnest and intellectual; she, gorgeous and way out of his league, kiss passionately in an alcove near the bandstand, overlooking the courtyard and Palmer Square.
On the television behind the bar – Jim Thome, the hulking, intimidating Chicago White Sox slugger, subtly complains to the umpire after being struck out by the Yankees’ Randy Johnson, whose no-hitter bid lasted almost as long as the jazz band’s three sets.
Rick Fiori, the leader of this jazz trio and the catalyst for all this activity, is 60 years old and a veteran of the New York and international scenes. "I’m 60 going on 26," he says. "Somebody’s gotta remind me how old I am." Fiori is certainly energetic. During the show he often had to poke and prod his keyboardist to stay with him.
Fiori was born in Chambersburg, the son of a violinist/violin teacher, Armando "Elmer" Fiori. His mother was a registered nurse. Violin was Fiori’s first instrument but he didn’t enjoy it much. "You had to take that thing back and forth to school with you," he says. "It caused me some problems."
Fiori then became a sax player, but after hearing marching bands, he became hooked on drums. He studied music at Trenton Central High and drums with private teacher Hy Frank, and after graduating from high school, began playing locally in jazz bands and combos.
Among Fiori’s proudest achievements are a European tour with the late, great saxophonist John Stubblefield, and a stint in the 1970s with saxophonist Sonny Stitt. His trips around the world have left him wanting to explore the expatriate lifestyle, like an increasing number of Americans. "I really would like to be living (in Europe), he says. "Too much emphasis on capitalism and Republicanism in America. This country is not the tolerant, open place it used to be. I guess you could definitely call me a liberal."
While Fiori may daydream about the expatriate life, musically he is truly American, having spent most of his professional life playing American classical music. He also teaches; Fiori just finished a two-year stint at Westminster School of Music, where he taught the drum set. He loved the work and the school; he didn’t like the administrative part of it. In the fall he will teach at the Music and Arts Center in Mercer Mall.
The Fiori Trio – normally the group includes bassist Dave Kingsnorth and singer Annette St. John – will also be playing the Witherspoon Grill soon, Fiori says, adding that Ivanov, a friend of Harris’s, was sitting in for fun during the show at Mediterra, which explains why, on a couple of occasions, the leader had to go out on a limb musically and rescue the keyboardist, who had briefly lost his sync.
When speaking to Nick Harris, it soon becomes apparent that his speech doesn’t sound like a guy named Nick Harris. Fiori explains that Harris, a native of Russia, changed his name totally from "a name that nobody can pronounce" to the more manageable American name.
And Harris plays like an American jazzman – or a pretty good Russian jazzman, for that matter. On "For Heaven’s Sake," Harris strums a fairly complex Django Reinhardt-influenced solo, negotiating for space and relevance with Ivanov’s organ, which provides bass as well as chordal support.
"Corcovado," the Antonio Carlos Jobim standard, is, even considering the restrictions of the venue, subtle and quiet, both in terms of dynamic and tempo. Wielding brushes intently and confidently, Fiori pushes the group to stay within the framework of the moment. As the song moves on, the group moves briefly to a swing tempo, with Harris again soloing brightly, but ultimately the tune’s denouement is a classically Brazilian one; it provides a great backdrop for the lovers who were in their own world that Wednesday.
Rick Fiori Jazz Trio, 609-219-0871. Upcoming gigs:
Saturday, August 26, Mercer County Park, 6 to 8 p.m.609-989-6899.
Wednesday, August 30, Mediterra, 29 Hulfish Street, 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. 609-252-9680.
Saturday, September 2, Pops at the Pub, Halo Pub, 9 Hulfish Street, Palmer Square, outdoors, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. 609-921-1710.