Alan Lomax's Italian Treasury of World Music
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The Italian Treasury Italian Treasury: Piemonte and Valle d'Aosta
Italian Treasury: Lombardia
Italian Treasury: Puglia: The Salento

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Alan Lomax's 1954 collaboration with Italian Diego Carpitella was a timely effort to capture the breadth of Italian folk music at a moment when the country found itself in a rapid process of industrialization, with familiar consequences for all aspects of rural life. Half a century later, these recordings retain a distinctive aura, confirming Lomax's singular ear for the vitality and beauty of the human voice, often only sparely accompanied.

Only shortly after Lomax's visit, Fiat set up shop in Turin, transforming the Piemonte region of Alpine northwestern Italy. Lomax and Carpitella were the first to record in the region, which gives this recording particular value, both for its historical contributions, and for the broad range of styles it presents: ballads and narratives (including broadsides about emigration), begging songs, love and courting songs, wedding songs, lullabies, a variety of dances and popular tunes (including a rousing choral version of "Donna, donna," accompanied by brass, accordion and strings), and some riveting polyphonic renditions ("Erano tre sorelle," "Che bei felice incontro," "Quei cacciatore," "E la picundria malinconia," Mamma mia dammi cento lire," "Tutti mi chiamano bionda").

To the east, Lombardy folk music also reflects a certain Alpine influence, and the recordists found an array of remarkable bird calls, waltzes, panpipe music, polyphonic styles (primarily but not exclusively sung by women), lullabies, ballads, and songs of courting and seduction. While it is true that Lomax spent less time here than in other regions of Italy, the listener can only agree with musicologist Bruno Pianta's rejection of the received idea that "Lombardy was, and still is, poor in musical traditions."

cd cover Far to the south in mountainous Puglia (Apulia), in the impoverished heel of Italy, the historical influence of Greece and the East is inscribed in the local minority Greciano dialect and an Albanian cultural presence. Lomax documented polyphony, mouth music, harvest and threshing songs, alms-seeking songs, Passion songs, ballads, dances, lullabies, serenades, songs of love and spite, stornelli (a kind of singing contest), tarantismo (the ritualistic musical exorcism of the effects of a poisonous spider bite), laments and mourning songs. Throughout, accompaniment is spare (guitar, accordion, percussion) or absent.

As with the entire Lomax collection, the album notes, bibliography and discography are thorough and extensive, with photographs from the field. Altogether, these additions to the Italian Treasury expand the compelling background against which to comprehend the vivace of the contemporary Italian folk revival. - Michael Stone

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