Ermes Pirlo is a very interesting accordionist and composer. Constantly immersed in the search for a strictly personal and recognisable sound, it bases its way of playing on songwriting and extensive timbre, harmonic, rhythmic and melodic exploration. Through this interview he tells a splice of his life.
Where did your passion for the accordion come from?
My dad has always loved this instrument, even though he did not have time to dedicate it. At nine he gave me the first accordion and took me lessons from a country teacher. From now I realized that the relationship between me and this instrument would last long, given that the approach was of immediate naturalness and the small satisfactions came virtually from day to day.
In 2006 you attended seminars in Siena Jazz, one of the most prestigious institutions in Italy with regard to this musical genre. How did you experience this formative experience?
The experience in Siena was very educational. I have met teachers, but also top-level musicians with whom I have shared moments that I believe only similar experiences can give. I got to know the pianist / “researcher” Stefano Battaglia, with whom in the following four years I embarked on a musical search path linked to the free improvisation at tabula rasa, which made me grow so much in terms of analytical vision of the sound material and the power of performance.
Later, always in the interest of a remarkable artistic growth, you attended the Jazzinty international seminars in Slovenia, where you have been included in the classroom of music directed by one of the world’s most prestigious jazz guitarists: John Abercrombie.
How was the meeting with this musical master?
I went to Slovenia to attend a workshop held by Simone Zanchini, one of the most acclaimed accordionists and I always follow with interest. Abercrombie was the mentor of the guitar class.
In addition to being the musician known to the whole world, he turned out to be a genuine person who was surprised to know some of his songs (I have always enjoyed his language related to melodious singing) and he was pleasantly curious about this “accordion version ” of his music.
In 2011 you constitute a trio called Bellow’s Training with which you recorded a CD of only original compositions. What is the fil rouge that distinguishes this album?
The sound. We worked on the sound. With the bassist and friend Paolo Biasi I started to write for Bellow’s Training in 2010. We were on a weekly basis and the material offered by both of them was dealt with too much theoretical rules, but focused on sound and instrumental interaction. We have long known the drummer and pianist Emanuele Maniscalco, a musician of rare sensibility and completeness (he is also a close associate of Paolo) who we later asked to be part of our project. His insertion was inspiring for us, to the point of documenting the work he has done so far. We recorded in 2012 and the album released in 2015 for the NBN label.
How are the songs of your pen so excitably emotional?
There is no one answer. Sometimes the music goes out before I realize it and it’s just to give it a form. Let’s say that the most sincere songs are obviously those related to particular moments that inspired me.
As regard to your original compositions, would you prefer to create them by following a single genre or lose yourself into a stylistic research about various styles?
I do not think it makes sense to speak of a single genre, especially for those who play and listen to jazz, the language of multiple contaminations. I have never been a purist of the musical genre, even less in writing. In general, the most interesting things I conceive start from a structural subject, that I try to give life to sound, remaining far from clichés or style abused by language and form, in favour of a simpler writing that allows me to tell a story that is as evocative as possible.
It is undeniable that in recent years the accordion is recovering the space that has been denied for a long time, at least in mainstream jazz, thanks to accordionists who have internalized this language. In contemporary classical music I believe experimentation can bring new lymph to this instrument. I think they did well and do those (accordionists and composers) who invest resources in this direction.
Do you think that the accordion is an instrument necessarily linked to a particular musical genre or, thanks to its inexhaustible timbre and expressive potential, do you think you can play it quietly in any context?
There is no doubt that the accordion is unanimously considered a versatile instrument. Faced with the few limitations it still has (each instrument has its own), it offers a rhythmic, harmonic and melodic potential that can safely be present in all kinds. I would say that the only concern is to appropriately allocate all of this potential by virtue of the organization and the context in which it is inserted.
Since 2015, he collaborates profusely with guitarist Paolo Bacchetta, in a duo featuring original sound project and author pieces. What are the predominant features of original compositions and songwriting?
Paolo Bacchetta, he also from Brescia (I consider myself a privileged living in Brescia, because I’m surrounded by some of the best improvisers on the national scene), I met him during the experience in Siena in 2006. We found ourselves recently and there was the right tuning that drives me to dare and, as far as I am concerned, to question the role of the accordion. The predominant feature is still the sound, regardless of the material, given the hyper-harmonic nature of the two instruments.
Are you projected to new record projects?
The intention is to continue the path started with Bellow’s Training with the addition of a fourth element. We already have the material recorded in the studio in 2012, but we decided not to publish because it was too far from the colour, that was taking a good part of the disc. Since then, new music has been written, waiting for only right times for a new release.
This article is available also in: Italian