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Maria Chiara Argirò (Live Review) Seven Arts Leeds, 24 October 2019

Updated: Nov 4, 2019

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Maria draws an end to her set and the final piano chord strikes down. The audience erupts to their feet, Maria looks up from the keys and turns to the audience, she’s beaming, and so are we.

It was a highly charged 5 star journey of immersive, diverse, adventurous sounds, so hot out of the studio you can feel the band’s fresh drive and infectious spirit behind the music. They amplified, stretched and illuminated the album, passionately. It was a live experience that will not be forgotten.

‘This gig for me has been the best gig’, Maria tells me afterwards, ‘the audience was incredible, they were so attentive, and I could just feel such energy in the room’.

Following the release of ‘Hidden Seas’ in September and Ally’s exciting interview with Maria, Hamish headed down to Seven Arts in Leeds for Maria’s live performance of her latest album for himself, as part of Jazz Leeds’ Women in Jazz concert season.

She begins with the softly spoken and dreamy, ‘Beneath the Surface’, as Leïla Martial’s voice remains unmoved from the trancelike melody, and Sam Rapley’s tenor sax soars tremendously over. It’s a powerful start, and drives home Maria’s inspired concept behind ‘Hidden Seas’.

‘For me, it's like feeling like you’re in the middle of the ocean, alone. The music’s all the layers of the sea- in my head it’s a sound. It’s so many sounds put together to make one whole sound.’

Maria drops you underwater as her instruments’ muffle and pale into fading echoes through water. If you listen deeply and imaginatively, you can feel the push and pull of the tides. The combination of sound effects, pedals, guitar warping and enthralling percussion, Maria’s band paint a dreamlike, immersive, tranquil soundscape. Gaspar Sena’s tight drumming flowed like water itself.

‘Nautilus’ follows as one of Hidden Seas most empowering tracks. Luscious harmonisation between the instruments and a buttery softening rhythm flows. Maria lets her band move freely across the music, and as ‘Nautilus’ died out, she introduced a highly anticipatory element of Hidden Seas to hear live - a very unique vocal interlude.

Leïla Martial’s vocals form her own language. It’s a sequence of wild, wild sound. She cries, screeches and howls over Maria’s humming synth. It’s a totally outlandish, gripping, frenzied music. You could draw a comparison to Bjork, but still, this is far out. Throwing between non-words to bird song, and back again, she sequences an unruly harmonic landscape of cleverly chosen notes. Leïla pelts the sounds out, her emotive facial expressions are entrancing, offering a small window into her mind. Her abstract noises greet us a number of times across the record but performed live as an engrossing interlude, it couldn’t have been a better time to showcase her ability. Drifting into their next track, ‘Sea Song', the instruments introduce themselves back in, the set from this point had reached a new level.

Maria weaves her players through her compositions seamlessly, letting them freely dance along the music. The instrumental intonation and variety of instruments added in throughout kept breaking expectation. There was a small mouth flute, a clarinet, the double bassist Andrea Di Biase took up the bow. The musicians move with the music fluently and passionately, it was a joy to experience.

The band play ‘Watery Universe’, as guitarist Tal James enjoys a hugely atmospheric guitar entrance, licking up the audience into a trance. Suddenly the entire band crash in with the chorus, loudly. The instruments go on to showcase superb improvisational standard, building up the rhythm like in an Ashley Henry style, topping it off with a thrusting crescendo. Throughout this, Rapley’s control over the textural sound of the sax, adding percussion-like qualities, slapping the reed and adding texture, furthered this ephemeral sound of the water.

All the differing sounds ranged from different families and complimented this rich seascape. Essences of Radiohead creep in regularly, as they warp long electronic notes, and raise the noise above coherent level, thrusting you back under the water.

‘There were endless influences for the album’, explains Maria, ‘Radiohead throughout. Bjork in the lyrics. Shostakovich, I’ve been listening to him for the past three years, on and off, I always come back to him. And Jon Hopkins and Kneebody, absolutely.’

As the music drew to a close, the atmosphere of astonishment was heavy in the air. The feeling of the sea had come through, and as a conceptual live performance, the water couldn't have been clearer. This was a privilege to have such a creative, wonderful sound to come to Leeds. There is no doubt that this was a unique, one of a kind performance, that we hope so many more will come to discover and enjoy.


Upcoming Tour Dates:

15 November – The Crypt, London (part of the EFG London Jazz Festival)

You can keep up to date with Maria via her socials here:


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