Daniele Sepe / Nia Maro
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cd cover Daniele Sepe
Nia Maro
Il Manifesto (www.ilmanifesto.it)

The title of the latest CD by Neapolitan reedman, composer, bandleader and cultural guerrigliero Daniele Sepe is Esperanto for "our sea." It's well chosen. Since releasing his first album, Malamusica, in 1990, Sepe has created a personal language grounded in his native Napoli but which, like that wonderful and mad city on a bay, has imported and absorbed other cultures. With Nia Maro, Sepe's distinctive idiom achieves its most fluent expression to date.

All the familiar elements are here. Half the album comprises his idiosyncratic re-workings of Neapolitan and other southern Italian songs ("Tammurriata," "Le Saltarelle," "Mi votu e mi rivotu") and the pan-Mediterraneanism that embraces both shores of "nia maro," from Greece ("To kokino fustani") to the Maghreb ("Lamma Bada," "Ile Jamalikoum"). But as usual, this rooted cosmopolitan reaches beyond the wine-dark sea, to the Caribbean (the woozy dub reggae "Mercy, Sunny") and jazz ("La Guerra dei mundi").

There are some welcome surprises, too. A fine, Wayne Shorter-influenced saxophonist, Sepe plays more horn on Nia Maro than on any of his recent releases. For much of its nine minutes, "Tammurriata" is a saxophone showcase, as he comps on soprano behind Auli Kokko's vocal before taking off on an extended solo. "La Guerra dei Mundi," opening with a snippet from Orson Welles' 1938 radio hoax about a Martian invasion of New Jersey, is 11-plus minutes of (electric) Miles-ish jazz, with Sepe on tenor.

But the album's biggest surprise is "Les Amants des bancs publics" (Park-Bench Lovers) by George Brassens, the great French chansonnier, who Sepe no doubt sees as a kindred spirit, for his political radicalism and his Neapolitan (maternal) roots. Sepe's version has touches of Weill and circus music, and the mischievous maestro can't resist quoting "Somewhere my Love," the syrupy love theme from "Dr. Zhivago." Somehow it all works.

Sepe's recordings have suffered at times from too much eclecticism, a very Neapolitan love of excess. But Nia Maro, though wide-ranging, avoids that pitfall. Sepe masterfully blends the local and the global, the ancient and the up-to-date, infusing the whole with his witty, ironic, rowdy, and radical (as in communist) sensibility. Who else would cite Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" as an inspiration for a jazz composition, and then wonder, "Was it then that their [Americans'] paranoia began?" - George DeStefano

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