Georgina Benison –
Photo credit: Khalid al Busaidi –
All the Italians living in Muscat plus a lot of other nationalities must have got wind that the King of Italian Blues was performing at the Royal Opera House Muscat on Thursday evening, as the concert was sold-out and the hall packed out from top to bottom. Some lucky punters were treated to a personal discussion with the world famous Blues singer in a pre-performance talk with ROHM’s Director General, Umberto Fanni. Even that hall was packed with standing room only as 63-year-old Adelmo Fornaciari explained how his primary school teacher nicknamed him Zuccherino — Little sugar — as he was so cute.
The presentation of Zucchero’s show was a top-notch production, polished in every detail from beginning to end. His band comprised seven of the finest musicians under musical director and bassist, the San Francisco- based, Polo Jones.
In his signature hat and waistcoat attire, Zucchero opened his concert swathed in a purple light-show, strobe effects and pre-recorded soundtrack, with the R&B title track of his 2017 tour, ‘Black Cat’. Los Angeles fiddle player, Andrea Whitt, contributed so much to the sound world of the songs, together with some amazing improvisation from Modena-born Italian Blues piano player, Nicola Peruch. The second song, ‘Coming Home’ in English, ‘my baby wrote me a letter’ featured a lovely solo from Cuban trumpet player, Lazaro Dilout, in the horn section with sixty-seven-year-old, Napoli-based American saxophonist, James Thompson. A Blues organ solo from Peruch, and Jones changing to electric upright bass introduced a blues ballad,” I don’t remember any more”. In contrast, the sultry African vocals from guitarist Kat Dyson in ‘My Lord’ was more gospel in style with smoky lead vocals.
The following beautiful ballad, ‘Diamante’ was dedicated to Zucchero’s grandmother on her Reggio Emilia farm who inspired the young boy to have courage and hope with her stories of the second World War. It featured an evocative mandolin accompaniment and fiddle solo giving a feel of rural Italy.
The well-known James Warren English ballad, ‘Change Your Heart’ received immediate applause during its piano introduction and resounding fiddle solo from Andrea Whitt, and the refrain, “Everybody’s got to learn sometime” hit a chord in everyone’s heart.
The popular Italian soft-rock ballad, ‘Così Celeste’, had beautiful piano backing and a catchy English hook, “She’s my Baby”. There followed quite a surprise as the superstar demanded everyone get up and dance to the upbeat Italian rock hit, ‘Vedo Nero’ (Like a fool… Shock the Monkey) with an amazing drum break from so far unfeatured Modena-born drummer, Adriano Molinari. There were many references to ‘eyes’ in the songs’ lyrics and ‘Baila Morena’ (sexy thing) was no exception. ‘Baby the night is on fire’ had the entire audience still on its feet, clapping and dancing, but they were seated for the English slow ballad, ‘Dunes of Mercy’ which featured a great bass riff solo from Polo Jones himself and interesting synthesiser sound from the multi-keyboard deck. ‘Iruban Me’ was a 1989 highlight, with a great Eric Clapton-style guitar solo with slow rock electronic reverb and effects. It echoed Zucchero’s Clapton collaboration, ‘Hey Man’ of 2004 at the Royal Albert Hall, London.
‘Il Volo’ (My Love) was a slow contrasting ballad, beautifully drenched in red lighting with harmonica solos from Cleveland-born, James Thompson. Things livened up again with a super lively rumba-rock featuring a brilliant Hammond Organ backing, more dancing and an Italian Rolling Stones-funk number, the 2006 subversive, ‘Bacco Perbacco’ (Mercy, mercy, Baby don’t Cry, Make it funky). Most haunting of all was the Miles Davis collaboration, ‘Dune Mosse’ opening with a superb trumpet solo from Lazaru Amauri Oviedo.
Zucchero saved the best till last; the eagerly anticipated film of his recording with Luciano Pavarotti and the song he composed especially with him in mind was projected onto a huge screen. It took some flattery and cajoling to persuade Opera’s No 1 tenor to participate in the project, but in 1992 Pavarotti sung the solo in ‘Miserere’, depicting barefoot penance in a chapel and asking, “What am I doing? It is no more”, but giving a ray of hope to conclude. Using clever recording techniques, Pavarotti was heard in duet with the band performing live on stage.
Zucchero knew well how to inspire hysteria from the audience and he kept them waiting for the first encore, a fast lively, Mediterranean Blues-rock with a bluegrass fiddle solo from Ms Whitt, “Whose Fault?” as he bade ‘saluta’ to his cheering, dancing fans. Another long pause brought him back to the stage for his 1991 hit song with Paul Young. ’Senza Una Donna’ — perhaps composed following a split from his wife — featured another great guitar solo from Virginia-based guitarist, Kat Dyson, this time moving front of stage to claim her deserved recognition. The show was drawing to a close after nearly two hours of non-stop performance. The final cover of Black’s 1987, ‘Wonderful, Wonderful Life’ had the audience singing its iconic melody as they moved out into the night, believing ‘there’s magic everywhere’, at least on this Thursday evening in Muscat.