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B i o g r a p h y

Two conflicting statements, equally valid: we can’t go home again, and we cannot escape our homes, whatever they may be; we carry them on our backs wherever we go.


Pippo Corvino was born Filip Gavranović in 1988 in Pula, in the former Yugoslavia; though ethnic tensions were already brewing in the country, it would still be united for another two years. When he was still very young his family moved to Titograd (now Podgorica), the capital city of Montenegro.

From an early age, he spent hours in front of the hi-fi listening to CDs from his father’s collection: Pink Floyd, Mike Oldfield, Jethro Tull, Sting, Dire Straits. He was particularly fascinated by synthesizers (the albums Wish You Were Here and The Dark Side of the Moon were two favorites), and his parents took note and gave him a toy synthesizer for his seventh birthday. His father knew enough to show his son middle C on the keyboard and explain the concept of a chord, and the cornerstone was laid.


Now, that may sound suspiciously like myth-making, like the fairy tale of a musician’s young life… but the truth is, almost every musician’s childhood has an element of magic to it. For one thing, there is a fascination with sound as a unique entity: it stands out from sensory deluge with a special aura, a weight of meaning beyond simple manifestation, beguiling a child into spending hours encamped before the speakers, letting the music wash over them, while other kids are outside playing football or whatever it is kids of that age play at.

And then, at some point, the border between absorbing music and creating music is crossed – in this case with the help of that toy keyboard: the knowledge the boy’s father had imparted was a gateway to the exploration of melody and harmony, and his first attempts at imitation soon followed (the alert reader will not be surprised to learn that the iconic synthesizer introduction to Wish You Were Here was an early subject of interest).


The moment of first contact between a musically gifted child and the greater musical world is crucial—how it happens, and even more, who is involved. In this case, it was the entrance exam for a musical primary school: the boy was marched in to stand before a jury of stony-faced adults and demonstrate his nascent abilities. Although his rhythmic acumen was not yet developed (spoiler: it improved), his ability to hear and identify notes impressed the jury, and he was enrolled. When the time came to choose an instrument, he chose the guitar.


Pippo Corvino describes Montenegro as something of a hinterland, sparsely populated and a little separate from the world, with—in his words—a limited number of competent musicians willing to share their knowledge. In the 1990s, in the midst of violent upheaval in the region, it was surely even more isolated, more turned inward upon itself. As such, his school years gave him a solid grounding in classical music (the alpha and omega of European music education for centuries) but little else. He was forced to cultivate all other interests—in other musical genres, composition, and recording—on his own, as best he could. 


However, there are no self-made musicians. Anyone who chooses a life in music must have had at least one person who challenged them at some point, who helped fan a spark of talent into the flame of commitment. In Pippo’s case, it was a middle-school piano teacher who introduced the boy to guitarists like Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin, and Pat Metheny—in short, to the music that would prove to be his point of orientation from then on: jazz. 


Imagine that you have spent the entirety of your young life believing that music only comes out of speakers or from a written page—that it is always predetermined, and a musician’s purpose is to reproduce it as faithfully as possible. If that is the case, the revelation of discovering an entire branch of music based on spontaneity and self-expression cannot possibly be overstated. It is nothing less than the discovery of a new, brighter, more interesting world. From this point on, the boy and his guitar (now electric) were practically inseparable; he soon began performing with some capable local musicians (including the aforementioned piano teacher) and acquiring the beginnings of professional experience.


At the age of 17, while still in school, he was hired to play in productions at the Montenegrin National Theater. During the next few years—until his departure for Austria—he performed regularly in the theater and occasionally had the opportunity to create music for plays or short films. He also recorded two albums of original music (the first unreleased, the second released in 2008) but assembling and maintaining a working band proved impossible. In fact, he was quickly reaching the limits of what Montenegro could offer him. Stylistically he fell between the cracks: his classical teachers viewed his interest in “inferior” musical styles as misguided and warned him that it would ruin his technique, but when he attempted to transfer to a jazz-friendlier school in Belgrade, he was rebuffed as “too classical”. 


In 2007, somewhat by default, he began studying classical guitar at a conservatory in Cetinje, Montenegro, but whatever residual interest he had in that music was soon gone. It was an old-school institution, hidebound and authoritarian (“Mr. Gavranović, this is a music school, not a bar“), and his frustration at its narrowmindedness finally led him to leave in protest. In despair, he considered quitting the guitar altogether, but with the encouragement of Stjepko Gut (a Serbian trumpet player with links to the Austrian jazz milieu) he applied and was accepted to the jazz program at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Graz. And there, as he puts it, his new life began.


As jazz programs go, Graz is fairly conservative, emphasizing the mainline tradition—New Orleans to swing to bebop to modal jazz; everything beyond that is a little vague—but it is a more than adequate crucible for an independent and motivated young musician. The university curriculum was augmented by recording projects of his own and with fellow students, some of whom began bringing him their recordings to mix as well. His studio/atelier, The BURROW, began in the bedroom of the Graz apartment he shared with Stjepko Gut; it was here that his solo records Growing Wings and The Parting of the Ways first saw the light of day.


It was also in Graz that Filip Gavranović became Pippo Corvino, when some Italian friends took it upon themselves to rename him according to their standards: Filip became Pippo (short for Filippo) and Gavran—‘raven’ in Serbo-Croatian—was translated to Corvino, its Italian counterpart. The name caught on, first at the university and then in the Austrian music scene, and aside from his passport, Filip Gavranović faded into the background. 


Pippo Corvino completed his bachelor’s degree in Graz in 2014 and enrolled in the master’s program. He began performing in duo with the double bass professor, Morten Ramsbøl, and in 2016 released How Far is the Moon, a trio album with pianist Anıl Bilgen. 

This album bears special mention, since it represents a stylistic break with everything that came before. Up to that point, Pippo’s music had made liberal use of guitar effects, overdubbing and other studio techniques. His early recordings are mostly dramatic and exuberant—the sound of a young musician drunk on discovery. In contrast, How Far is the Moon is strictly acoustic, and the sound aesthetic is in stark contrast to his earlier work: ascetic, almost painfully intimate. The snap and squeak of strings is part of the music, clearly audible; at times we hear a sharply indrawn breath at the onset of a phrase. Before, his music was always presented as a finished work; on this recording we are in the room, experiencing the music’s creation.


After that, things happened quickly. Pippo finished his master’s degree, released the album Come To Light with the singer Cinzia Catania, and moved to Vienna, where he encountered Ángela Tröndle: in the musician’s version of a “met cute” story, he sent her an unsolicited reworking of one of her songs; she liked it, and they became partners—first in music, then in life. Their collaboration to date has brought forth the albums Getting Out of the Envelopes (2017) and Distilled (2021); both are unashamedly pop-flavored works, strongly influenced by the likes of Sting, Joni Mitchell, and 90s singer-songwriters, but with atmospheric keyboards and vocal overdubs adding intrigue and depth. The guitar plays a reduced role, but it still takes center stage now and then, providing relaxed, sitting-on-the-porch moments (“On the Grass”) and adding an element of grit and spontaneity to otherwise carefully curated music.


Pippo’s third solo album Another World (2018) shows the gradual integration of the various skills he has acquired along the way: the guitar is still at the center of the music, but the piano plays a larger role, and other sounds impose themselves—harmonium, a dark uprushing of synthesizers, crystalline vocal harmonies. Early influences, like Pink Floyd and the Pat Metheny Group, echo throughout the album. His production work has also matured, the tools and techniques of the modern musician now focused on their true purpose: the creation of sonic/emotional spaces, announced by the titles—“Through the Door in the Field”, “Beyond the Hills” or (more ominously) “Locked in a Square with Circles”. At various points during the album, we have the sense that we are sitting at his feet in a recording studio, or next to him in front of a rustic cabin. We stand in a misty field; we are suspended in midair.


Forgotten Tales (2021) is a trio album with the Hungarian musicians Balázs Balogh (drums and percussion) and Judit Bonyár (cello and voice). There is a refreshing spontaneity to the music, surely due in part to it having been the musicians’ first meeting, but also because they seem supremely comfortable with the material, a collection of reimagined traditional music from Eastern Europe. As a rule, Pippo has steered clear of “ethnic” music projects—but sometimes, music comes looking for us.

His ongoing project with the Bosnian/Viennese singer Nataša Mirković is a similar case: the duo’s repertoire also consists mainly of Eastern European folk music, “recomposed” by Pippo. It is delicate, acoustic music, elegant and unforced, worthy of the Golden Hall of Vienna’s Musikverein, where they have in fact performed. No album has resulted from the collaboration yet… but one can hope. 


A recent showcase for his skills as producer/arranger/orchestrator (the distinction between these jobs is often all but nonexistent) is The Long Bright Dark (2022), with saxophonist Ján Kopčák. The raw material of the album was five hours’ worth of meditative solo saxophone; in Pippo’s hands, the end result is something like an electronic big band album—the naked melody now clothed, given form and context. And yet sooner or later everything circles back to the guitar, to his confident, unshowy mastery of the instrument. One of the album’s most memorable pieces is “Root”, a perfect miniature chorale for solo guitar, full of open harmonies and carefully placed dissonances. It wouldn’t sound entirely out of place in the 16th century, except for the pedal-steel aesthetic with which it is performed. Palestrina in Alabama.


By now, the reader may well be asking themselves: where does this wandering narrative, this narrative of wandering, lead? That is the question of life, of course, not to be answered in this handful of lines… however, his most recent solo album, In Traverse (2023), can perhaps be viewed as a culmination of sorts. Pippo describes it as his biggest, most complete work to date, and it does have a certain sense of arrival to it—odd, in a way, since the theme of travel roams the album, touching many of the tracks: “A Change of Course”, “Distant Lights”, “A Safe Passage”. The sound, though, is confident, unhurried, even contemplative: clearly, Pippo has found his stride. 

In Traverse gathers his closest collaborators once more as special guests: Ángela Tröndle is there, as are Balázs Balogh and Anıl Bilgen. The production strikes a balance between acoustic spontaneity and studio refinement, the two sides of his musical personality working in tandem to produce a reckoning with his musical past. 


And so the message, if there is one, might be this: as hard as we may try to turn the page on previous chapters of our lives, we carry them with us always—and that is as it should be, because they are what gives us, and our work, depth and meaning. On this album, as ever, Pippo Corvino looks backward while moving forward, bearing the weight of experience and all that he has been into the new worlds he builds.


Philip Yaeger

W A R N I N G !

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