Lucid Culture


Newpoli Make Elegant and Exciting Connections in Old and New Italian Music

Along with the recent explosion in Romany music and Romany-flavored rock, there’s been a resurgence in interest in Italian folk music, which can be just as wild and feral. Italian folk revivalists Newpoli‘s debut album Tempo Antico goes in the other direction. There are a handful of tarantellas, but even those are more elegant than they are a desperate attempt to whirl and sweat out the lethal spider’s bite. Rather, the concept is to find commonalities throughout some pretty diverse styles of Italian music, and the results are eye-opening. Most of the ancient songs here are from around Naples and Puglia. There are also medieval classical pieces that very vividly pilfer folk themes (validating the composer’s adage that if a hook is too catchy, it must be from a folk tune). The 20th century is also represented, but with nothing like the cheesy Italian songs you might hear at a baseball stadium (specifically, before or during New York Mets games). The recording, made at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lynn in Swampscott, Massachusetts adds a tantalizing natural reverb to the sonics. The ensemble features Angela Rossi and Carmen Marsico on vocals, Bjorn Wennas on classical guitar, Roberto Cassan on accordion, Fabio Pirozzollo on percussion, Daniel Meyers on reeds, Megumi Sataaki on violin, Sean Farias on bass and guest John LaBarbera on acoustic guitar, mandola and mandolin.

The opening track contrasts lively vocals with a careful proto-baroque pulse – so this is where Albinoni and Corelli got their ideas! – and then morphs into a joyously circling dance, accordion handing off to Meyers’ searing, overtone-charged clarinet. The second track sounds like an English sailors’ hornpipe dance, the third an elegant, rustic pavan of sorts from 1545. The ensemble draws a vivid line back to ancient tarantella grooves with a 1957 noir cabaret-tinged pop song, then return to the roots of the baroque.

They follow a slightly arioso, crescendoing 1916 song with a tongue-twisting rondo credited to the great pre-baroque choral composer Orlando de Lassus. The most haunting passages here come at the beginning of a Pugliese tarantella that reminds of noir Mexican revivalists Las Rubias Del Norte; then the band picks it up and it becomes another one of those quasi-hornpipes. Then they explore the trope again: stately intro, boisterous dance, like a Jewish hora in different scales.

A brooding guitar/accordion tune from 1930 closely resembles the Romany-influenced French and Belgian musettes of that era. They follow that with one of the most eye-opening numbers here, another Lassus antiphon with Bulgarian-tinged, melismatic vocals: what kind of cross-pollination was going on back then? Or is this the band putting a neat Balkan spin on early Italian classical music? They keep that vibe going with a medieval Pugliese love song and close with an unexpectedly carefree tarantella, maybe a post-extermination dance.


September 12, 2013 Posted by | classical music, folk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Salvatore Bonafede Trio – Sicilian Opening

Italian jazz pianist Salvatore Bonafede blends diverse classic styles and pensive European melodies along with the occasional rustic Sicilian accent into a strikingly memorable, hummable mix on this new cd. In the style of another eminently catchy current composer, JD Allen, pretty much everything here clocks in at under five minutes, sometimes considerably less. Yet as indelible as the compositions are, the playing is impeccably tasteful and understated – if anything, these guys could cut loose a lot more if they felt like it.

The album opens with a jaunty New Orleans theme, quoting Brubeck liberally early on. According to the liner notes, the second cut is ostensibly Arab-influenced, but it’s basically a swaying, moody two-chord vamp into a catchy, bluesy chorus. Track three, Ideal Standard memorably addresses issues of communication or lack thereof via Bonafede’s tensely judicious minor-key phrasing. Bassist Marco Panascia maintains the vibe, voicing a solo that builds intensity as it follows Bonafede’s lines even as it brings the volume down to the lower registers. The trio follow that with a slow, expressive quasi blues, drummer Marcello Pellitteri deftly bouncing accents off the piano’s bass notes.

The warmly cinematic seventh track paints an Americana-inflected tableau evocative of the late Danny Federici’s solo work. Of the two covers here, Blackbird is a song that should be retired – no matter what Bonafede does with it, which isn’t straying particularly far from the original, you are only waiting for the moment to arrive when it’s over. But with his version of She’s Leaving Home, Bonafede really captures the understated exasperation and unspoken rage in the McCartney original. The other tracks include a tribute to Palermo that builds to the closest approximation of a scream that there is here; a hypnotic Dr. John homage, and a casually swaying number that blends gospel with an updated, martial WC Handy vibe. The album creeps up on you if you’re not paying attention – that’s how strong the melodies are.  The liner notes have an earnestness that’s often hilarious, like they’ve been babelfished backwards and forwards. Somebody get these guys a translator that speaks…that is to say, one with a voice that isn’t computer-generated.

March 5, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Concert Review: The Fourth Annual Main Squeeze Accordion Festival

Forget All Points West or Lolapalooza if it should ever get here again: diehard fans with sufficient stamina (and water supply- it was overcast but pretty hot most of the day over by the river) to hang in through all seven acts on the bill at Pier One on the Hudson were treated to what might be the year’s best single-day outdoor New York music festival. Considering how much of a comeback the small but mighty accordion has made over the years here in the US, there was a sense of defiance and triumph in the air.

The opening act, Musette Explosion is a tremendously good side project from accordionist Will Holshouser and guitarist Matt Munisteri – they do this gig a few times a year when there’s time, and given how much fun everybody onstage was having, it’s something of a surprise they don’t do it more often. Backed by bass saxophonist Scott Robinson, they ran through an alternately haunting and bouncy mix of swing-inflected French and Belgian instrumentals from mostly the 1930s and 40s. The highlight of the set, as usual, was Jo Privat’s eerie La Sorciere (The Witch), Munisteri weaving his way into a ferocious tremolo-picked solo on banjo. A Holshouser original, Chanson Pop built to a lushly plaintive, unaffectedly dramatic Baroque-inflected anthem. This group usually plays with a tuba, but Robinson made a great fit: blazing solos aren’t something you expect from a bass sax, but this guy delivered, particularly on the opening number, Gus Viseur’s swaying Swing Valse.

Mexican norteno band Suspenso del Norte were next, seemingly a project of the Javier family of Queens: father Pablo on guitar and lead vocals with his twelve-year-old son on button accordion along with a second guitar and rhythm section. What they play is essentially Mexican country music, with the same kind of swinging backbeat as what used to come out of Nashville before it became the hometown of lame pop-rock about fifteen years ago. Mixing popular hits along with originals, they connected with the small expat contingent who’d come out to see them, the powerfully built young accordionist supplying effortlessly fast, soulfully bubbling leads.

Hector Del Curto’s Eternal Tango Quintet took the dance vibe into intense, wrenchingly passionate territory. With Del Curto on bandoneon, Gustavo Casenave on piano, Pedro Giraudo on upright bass along with an inspired cellist and violinist, they mixed originals and classics, from a stately, haunting version of the traditional Argentinian tango El Choclo to a fast yet lush take of the Piazzolla classic Libertango. Another Piazzolla composition, Michaelangelo #17 bristled with stormy bandoneon and string flourishes; an original, Emancipacion built suspense with a martial beat and some vivid interplay between piano and bandoneon, a device that Del Curto employed very effectively and evocatively through the set’s brooding ebbs and aching swells.

The Main Squeeze Orchestra were next: being the pet project of Walter Kuhr, proprietor of the Main Squeeze accordion center on Essex St., this is an annual event for the all-female twelve-accordion group. It was a characteristically playful, tongue-in-cheek yet also virtuosic and fascinatingly arranged performance. They got the schlock out of the way first – no matter how much you polish a turd, there’s not much you can do with the Eurythmics or Michael Jackson. “This is a happy song about love,” announced one of the women, taking a turn on vocals on an oompah version of the Joy Division classic Love Will Tear Us Apart. They reinvented Misirlou as a tango and Hava Nagila as a hora, seguing into a happy, upbeat wedding dance. The Kinks’ Demon Alcohol was as amusingly over-the-top as usual; they closed with their deliciously deadpan, full-length version of Bohemian Rhapsody. Maybe if we get lucky they’ll do Freebird next year.

Italian composer/accordionist Roberto Cassan and classical guitarist John Muratore followed with a fascinating, cutting-edge program that spanned from a couple of swinging yet pensive Piazzolla compositions originally written for guitar and flute, to a darkly expansive instrumental by a contemporary Cuban composer, two rousing Italian tarantellas and a long opening number with echoes of both Celtic music and bluesy Hot Tuna-style improvisation.

The big hit of the festival was Liony Parra y la Mega Mafia Tipica, who absolutely slayed with a wildly danceable set of merengue. Parra delivered lightning-fast rivulets on his button accordion, sometimes trading off with the band’s excellent sax player, who matched him note for note on some pretty crazy trills. Along with a harmony singer,  they had a rhythm section including congas, cajon and bass drum along with a five-string bassist who stole the show, punching in booming chords to bring a phrase to a crescendo, adding eerie atonal accents, liquid arpeggios and even some laid-back, unpretentious two-handed tapping when things got really sick. They took their time working in with a long intro, just accordion and the drums, then the bass hit a tritone and they went flying. La Mega Mafia Tipica’s merengue is party music, first and foremost: they don’t sing much except on the choruses. This set had a bunch of deliriously hypnotic two-chord jams, bass behind the beat for a fat, seductive groove. They’d shake up the rhythm in places, accordion and sometimes the bass playing three on four for an extended vamp. The last song of the set had a trick ending that took pretty much everybody by surprise: of all the bands on the schedule, only la Mega Mafia Tipica got an encore because nobody wanted the party to stop.

That Slavic Soul Party accordionist Peter Stan and his four-piece backing band weren’t anticlimactic speaks for itself. Stan is something of the Balkan Rick Wakeman, blessed with unearthly speed and fond of playing a lot of notes. This time out he had his son Peter Jr. on chromatic button accordion, playing much like his dad, along with violin, synthesizer usually supplying the basslines and somewhat minimalist drums. By now, it was late, the rain was picking up and everybody except the growing line of dancers in front of the stage seemed pretty exhausted. But it was impossible to leave. Stan plays the kind of modern Balkan dance music you hear at Mehanata, a slick feel made slicker by the artificial bass sound of the synth. But the tunes are relentless and often haunting. He soloed his way from country to country, from Romanian gypsy to klezmer. The band mixed it up, from the happy, upbeat Serbian pop song Nishka Banya to the stately, sweepingly ornate original instrumental Gypsy Soul Fantasy to several edgy dance numbers sung by guest vocalist Bato the Yugo. It was an appropriately bracing way to wind up the evening. Watch this space for upcoming NYC dates by all these bands.

July 12, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Brazz Tree, Metro Strings and Alessandra Belloni & I Giuliari di Piazza at Drom, NYC 1/12/09

The APAP annual shindig AKA the booking agents’ convention usually creates a decent handful of extra-interesting double and triplebills around town, and this was one of them, starting out funky and fun and ending up completely hypnotic. The star of the early evening was violinist/songwriter Mazz Swift, who played with both opening act Brazz Tree as well as Metro Strings, the quintet who followed, and showed off the rare kind of talent that will probably outlast both bands. A gifted, fiery violinist with a casually soulful vocal delivery, her strongest suit is her tersely crystallized songwriting and particularly her lyrics. Randi Russo is the most obvious comparison, in spirit if not stylistically: the two share a gift for a savage, offhandedly apt turn of phrase and a defiant, nonconformist sensibility. You’ll be hearing a lot more about her in less obscure corners than this.


In a too-brief set with Brazz Tree, she was accompanied by a talented acoustic guitarist and a drummer who played one of those electrified wooden drum boxes that were all the rage about ten years ago and strikingly replicate the sound of a fullsize kit. Their first song, Out of Time sauntered along on a haunting Middle Eastern inflected riff. Then the guitarist artfully lay down a loop and they continued in a similar vein with a new one titled Everyone Will Be a Star, a snide commentary on reality tv and the cult of celebrity. The rest of the show was a mixed bag: on several occasions, the guitarist had the chance to go for the jugular and really nail a phrase or bring a chorus to redline but each time he backed away into generic Dave Matthews-esque open chords. That may resonate with the hacky sack crowd now, but when Dave finally hangs up his guitar and goes off on the hacky sack senior tour, those cliches won’t cut it anymore. The guy obviously has the chops to do more, as he proved throughout the set and on the trio’s closing song, a darkly funny hard-times anthem with a wickedly catchy, upbeat chorus. They’re off on the college circuit at the moment, with a stop back here at the National Underground at 11 on Jan 31.


Metro Strings seem to want to go in the same direction as the Turtle Island String Quartet (they augment theirs with a drummer) but don’t yet have the material. Of their brief seven-song set, only a Swift composition, a bouncy yet reflective number perhaps titled Shine On, stood out from the group’s soporific if cerebrally orchestrated pop and bombastic yet emotionless ELP-inflected prog rock.


Noted Italian percussionist/singer Alessandra Belloni and her all-female trio of dancer/singer/percussionists I Giuliari di Piazza were a striking contrast with the ornate feel of the previous two acts: one wouldn’t think that simply vocals and percussion would be enough to hold an audience for a full forty-five minutes, but they did that and then some. As the lights onstage went down, it was as if the crowd had been transported to a secret clearing somewhere in the Piemonte to witness some wonderfully obscure, mystical ritual. Alternating between high, eerie incantations and earthy folk melodies and playing a small museum’s worth of percussion instruments, they wove a sonic web not unlike another very popular vocal group, le Mystere des Voix Bulgares. As head spell-caster, Belloni was so wrapped up in the music herself that she’d back off the microphone, eager to launch into the next song, even as she announced what it would be. In addition to melodies from various parts of Italy as well as Brazil and a couple of impressive solo turns from band members, their dancer whirled through the club, finally dragging a couple of audience members out on the floor as the drums and voices wailed high overhead. It was a performance that was as physically gripping as it was sonically captivating, even psychedelic. Belloni will no doubt be back in New York before long; watch this space.



January 14, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment