Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Tarantolati di Tricarico: a primal, visceral musical experience

I Tarantolati di Tricarico

This dynamic band has been a driving force in Southern Italian culture, interpreting and performing their music with an incredible dynamism. There is no shortage of groups resuscitating the ancient music of tarantism in the South of Italy these days, but I Tarantolati di Tricarico have been involved in this endeavor since the 1960's (the band's biography indicates that they were officially 'born' in 1975. This was the time of the first wave of the Southern Italian folk revival, a time when the music of the pizzica was, in the words of the historian Luigi Chiriatii, a "broken memory": painful to listen to, as many people emigrated from Southern Italy to escape the poverty and hardship of the land. Performing the ritual music and old folk songs was a political act, a way of giving voice to expressions experienced and felt but oppressed in the modern age.

I Tarantolati di Tricarico's latest CD is a writhing, unusual beast; the cover art depicts a be-ribboned person in the throes of ecstasy, a tarantula dead center on the belly, surrounded by a psychedelic swirl of color. Those 'bitten' by the spider were thought to be drawn to particular sounds, and to respond to various colored ribbons; the remedy was to dance the poison out. What grabs the listener immediately upon listening to the first tracks is the vigor with which the songs are performed, a rigorous rhythmic attack full of tambourines and the thudding percussion of cupa-cupa tubs. But the real surprise occurs starting on the fourth track, "Hatta Mammone," where the acoustic sound of the band suddenly incorporates elements of electronic techno and vocals reach a trance-inducing intensity heightened by all kinds of hand percussion. For a band that has existed for several decades, it becomes abundantly clear that experimentation is the order of the day. The entire CD never lets up for a moment; tunes such as "Bella Figljóla" pulsate passionately, urgently contemporizing the music. Witness the stunning "Uno: Monte La Lune," which features more chanting, a heavy, insistent beat, and a piano line that nods briefly towards salsa as the bass bounces across the soundscape.

The great researcher of tarantism in Southern Italy, Ernesto De Martino, argued in his famed ethnographic work "The Land of Remorse" that the tarantism ritual had ancient Greek roots; the connection between tarantism and the rituals of Dionysus has been explored and contested in academic circles for some time. However, the music of I Tarantolati di Tricarico certainly goes in for the frenzy of Dionysus. U'Squatasce is a primal, visceral experience, a wondrous addition to the ever-evolving dance of the spider. - Lee Blackstone


CD available from cdRoots

The ensemble's web site:

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Bevinda offers a fresh look at Portugal's fado

Felmay-Dunya (

Fado interpreters can range from the more traditional to the experimental. In the latter realm is Portuguese-born, French-raised Bévinda (Bévinda Ferreire). Outubro, her tenth release, presents the singer in a live set from the January 2006 Suoni Migranti Festival (hosted by the Comune di Riccione, Assessorato alla Cultura, which collaborated in this CD's production). Bévinda's tight, fluid combo includes Philippe de Sousa (Portuguese guitar), Mathias Duplessy (classical guitar, vocals), Côme Aguiar (bass), Philippe Foch (tabla, percussion), and Nicolas Gorge (drum kit).

For a live set (with due thanks to the sound technician), the subtleties are many here, testament to the singer's considerable gift, her vocal intensity, and the easy rapport she has with her splendid ensemble. De Sousa, who co-wrote several numbers with Bévinda, is superb on the Portuguese guitar (with its teardrop shape and six double-course steel strings over a moveable bone bridge, actually closer to a cittern), both in fado's traditional accompaniment mode and, more unusually for the genre, as a soloist (hear his lightly ringing "Pedras da madrugada," a contemplative solo instrumental break). Duplessy swings on guitar, and he too is a master of vocal nuance (e.g., "Jarkot" and "Dorme amorzinho," the latter with his keening, muezzin-like vocals on a striking Bévinda-Kamilya Jubran composition). The rhythm section lays down the groove, and altogether, this ensemble recording gives everyone plenty of room to work their individual spells.

At the fore, of course, is Bévinda herself, who blends a sultry French café sensibility with a feeling for the Orient, shot through with the fatalistic saudade so characteristic of fado. Her balmy contralto ranges from a restrained interpretation of "O grito" (an Amalia Rodrigues-Carlos Gonçalves composition, the only cover here, and a singular reading of a classic) to the pulsing "Mulher Passaro," all with an arresting gravity. A live video of the latter song (a different version than on this CD) is worth seeing on the artist's website, complete with a close-fitting blues harmonica solo by an unidentified harpist, one more example of the disregard this singer has for musical boundaries. Working against the tabla, Duplessy interjects some neo-classical Indian vocals with his rhythmic scatting, while Bévinda chants, moans, hisses, and snarls with primordial glee and a palpable aura of being born for the stage. The clip also gives a hint of the controlled mania the singer weaves through the relaxed overall musical temper so easily conjured and sustained by the ensemble. - Michael Stone

CD available from cdRoots

Monday, February 11, 2008

Gabriele Coen offers Italian world music with jazz

Gabriele Coen and Atlante Sonoro
CNI Music (

A household name in Italian jazz, Gabriele Coen (clarinet, soprano and tenor sax)is the founder of the noted ensemble Klezroym. On this 2007 recording he reunites Atlante Sonoro (Sound Atlas), with Pietro Lussu (piano), Marco Loddo (double bass) and Luca Caponi (drums) and guest guitarist Lutte Berg. Alhambra continues in the vein of Atlante Sonoro’s Duende, a contemporary, improvisatory renovation of traditions from Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Levant.

The ensemble allows each player room to develop their individual voices, creating a shifting sonic blend in which no one player stands apart. The title track’s driving pace and wailing clarinet owe more to jazz and klezmer than to the Iberian Peninsula, while "Belz" takes a nod to John Coltrane’s soaring lines and the pulsing modalities of McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones, a mood that echoes throughout this recording. More contemplative is Lussu’s "Lake Song," an expressive conversation between keyboard and soprano sax. In turns, Wayne Shorter’s "Ana Maria," Loddo’s "Auteyrac," and Coen’s "Roma Ad Agosto" and "Piccolo Tango" essay the quiet intensity and tonal range with which the quartet invests its collective conception. Coen’s "Maldafrica" looks south for its rhythmic thrust, while an idiosyncratic reframing of the Sephardic classic "Los Bilbilicos" takes the quartet through the lyrical intonations to which the album title alludes. - Michael Stone

CD available from cdRoots

Gabriele Coen offers Italian world music with jazz

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Abyssinians' Satta Massagana revisted

Satta Massagana

Composed in 1968, "Satta Massagana" featured the vocal trio that helped to define the most devout strains of Jamaica's then-emergent reggae sound. Producer Clement "Coxsone" Dodd brought the Abyssinians (Bernard Collins and the Manning brothers, Donald and Lynford) into the studio to record the song, whose Old Testament inspiration and Ethiopian linguistic sampling spoke to roots reggae's Rastafari foundations. But the somber, slowed-down groove and the obscure spiritual references made Dodd think the results would leave Jamaican audiences cold. Undeterred, the Abyssinians bought the master, released it on their own, and proved Dodd wrong; indeed, "Satta Massagana" entered the devotional canon of Rastafari congregations around Jamaica.

Taping at Studio One and Federal Records, the Abyssinians followed in short order with Collins' equally successful "Declaration of Rights," "Leggo Beast," and "Black Man's Strain"-along with Lynford's "Abendigo," "I and I," "Reason Time," and "Y Mas Gan," and Donald's "African Race," "Jerusalem," and "Peculiar Number." All are heard here, with informative notes by Chris Wilson. Satta Massagana is nothing less than a reggae classic, and-backed by noted Kingston studio musicians including Robbie Shakespeare, Sly Dunbar, and Earl "Chinna" Smith-after nearly four decades the album's fourteen original tracks (plus four additional previously released tracks on this 2006 CD reissue) reveal the trio's lovely harmonies, loping percussive groove, and spare instrumentation, as fresh and sublime as ever. - Michael Stone

CD available from Amazon

World music from cdRoots