CD review

Meroli – ‘Notturni’ + The Invisible Session – ‘Echoes of Africa’

Peter Jones reviews two new releases on the new Italian label Space Echo, a sister label of Milan’s Schema Records.

Meroli  – Notturni
(Space Echo SECD804)

Tweets. Bird calls. That’s how this new release from Alessandro Meroli begins, with a track called Nightfall. Notturni is a concept album, one that needs to be played sequentially in order to achieve its full intended effect. Notturni are, of course, nocturnes – musical pieces that evoke the night, so naturally Meroli cites Chopin as an influence, although in truth it’s rock and jazz that come through most strongly. The first track, in which the birds are roosting, represents dusk, the last track, dawn. And in between are all the eerie, sepulchral but beautiful stages of the evening and the night.

We’re in the city, so the vibe is noir-ish, as Meroli indicates with a track titled Dedicated to Bernard Herrmann. He uses a mixture of Alberto Sansò’s electronica and real instruments to produce his intensely cinematic musical effects. The second track, Evening Lights, is reminiscent of The Blue Nile, especially in Nico Menci’s use of synth bass. Pad sounds are overlaid first by a drifting electric piano solo by Stefano De Bonis and then by Meroli’s angular but legato alto saxophone. On the spooky ballad Where Are You? he channels Stan Getz with more gorgeously moody alto. We could be sitting behind Robert de Niro in Taxi Driver. And sure enough, the next track In the Middle of the Darkness delineates a terrifying car journey, propelled by Ivano Zanotti’s John Bonham-like drums. There’s a fine command of dynamics on this album. At the End of the Night, for instance, begins its slow build with spy movie sounds from Alberto Capelli’s Guzheng (a Chinese zither), proceeds with echoed flutes, and climaxes with a lovely trumpet/tenor harmony from Maurizio Piancastelli and Michele Vignali.

The darkness begins to lift with Morning Star, Menci’s tinkling piano figure perfectly reflecting the gradually lightening sky, until joined by Meroli’s fresh-sounding flute. Dawn is greeted with Capelli’s mohan veena – an Indian instrument, a cross between a guitar and a sitar.

Impressionism and melody combine to make Notturni a deep and resonant piece of work, better than just about any film it might have been composed for.

The Invisible Session –  Echoes of Africa
(Space Echo SECD801)

This album was recorded in Milan back in October 2019, and was finally released last month, a mere 15 years after the group’s eponymous debut collection on Schema. That one focused on Brazilian and other Latin beats, but this time The Invisible Session takes its inspiration from Africa. The project as a whole is the brainchild of vibraphonist Luciano Cantone, in collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Gianluca Petrella, who switches between trombone and various keyboards.

Echoes of Africa is a beautiful mélange of funk, psychedelia, and modal music, but all of it is powered by the insistent Afrobeat grooves of Ethiopian drummer and percussionist Abdissa “Mamba” Assefa. There’s also a rich, fruity horn section consisting of Petrella with his trombone, trumpeter Mirco Rubegni, and Giuseppe “Beppe” Scardino on baritone saxophone and flute.

The uptempo groover West Island features stabbing horn lines, bubbling retro synth solos, ensemble shouts and a trombone solo from Petrella. Ideas Can Make the World is a slower tune with moody horn riffs and keyboard-generated steel drums – one of several tracks reminiscent of the quieter musical interludes on old blaxploitation soundtracks by the likes of Isaac Hayes or Curtis Mayfield. In fact, the blaxploitation references – if you like that sort of thing – are among the guilty pleasures of listening to Echoes of Africa.

Cantone’s vibes add another level of cool. The slow, dreamy Hearing the Call also features the kora of Gambian musician Haruna “Jalimansa” Kuyateh, along with spoken-word contributions both here, and again on the gently insistent Mother Forgive Us, from the smoky voice of Benjamin “Bentality” Paavilainen. The pace picks up again with Pull the Handbreak [sic], punctuated with more funky horn riffs. Journey to the East is driven along by Riccardo Onori‘s reggae guitar, while People All Around there World Can Make It rather reminds me of great soul-funk acts like The Stylistics and The Temptations.

Cantone’s vibes shine again on Breathe the Rhythm, and on Entoto there’s a fine contribution from Riccardo Onori, sounding here like Hank Marvin on mescaline.

Echoes of Africa provides a 2am kind of atmosphere, perfect for the chill-out time at the end of a house party. Remember those?

LINK: Space Echo Records website

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