There are many albums that are of interest for various reasons, but I guess what really attracts me to the entirety of an album is that it starts intriguingly and maintains my attention throughout. Here’s a prime example.
Alessandro D’Alessandro is a leading player of organetto, the Italian name for a diatonic button accordion (the sort that makes a different note on the push from the pull). Italy is a heartland of the manufacture of accordions of all kinds; D’Alessandro plays an instrument developed in collaboration with a leading maker, Castagnari, and their work together is described on the company’s website. It’s a three-row - that is, with three rows of melody buttons - which is usually diatonic, but this one has cunningly been made chromatic and so allows him to play and modulate in ways that would be impossible on a diatonic, while keeping the latter’s small size and sprightliness. (Not as small, though, as it’s drawn, looking more like a concertina, on the album cover, whose cheery cartoon style might give the impression that this is a children’s record).
Canzoni is a tour de force of D’Alessandro’s constantly unusual and innovative arrangements, featuring a variety of singers and instrumentalists, of songs and tunes by a range of mostly Italian composers. It doesn’t come across as an organetto showpiece; his highly skilled playing and techniques are subsumed to the creation of fully rounded, rich pieces of music, and only by checking the credits is it clear just how much of the sound comes from that instrument.
The full album title and subtitle translates as “Songs - for prepared and electronic organetto.” The use, though, of technology including looping and occasional effects, and percussion achieved by hitting the instrument’s woodwork, is so well integrated that there’s no sense of electronicky flash.
Prologo (Tiritera delle canzoni che volano), by D’Alessandro and singer David Riondino, joined by backing vocals, electric guitar, bass and percussion, is an uptempo patter song listing the many things the album’s songs and instrumentals are about. The solo “Azzurro” is a very Italian swirling waltz that develops into a lively conversation between D’Alessandro and himself using loops and instrument-slaps. Sergio Cammariere sings the flowing “Il Manichino” (“The mannequin”) to his limpid piano and D’Alessandro’s surging organetto. It tells of an ill-fated romance that begins: “With bright eyes and upturned eyelashes, and a dress designed by Cardin, she smiled at me through the window with her small, red mouth.”
The familiar “Can’t Help Falling In Love” gets a reflective treatment of organetto and echoing slide guitar. “Il Mare” is a sprightly organetto groove with marimba and glockenspiel, “I Giardini di Marzo” is a solo reflection on Lucio Battisti’s composition that moves from calm to rhythmic using looped hitting of the organetto as percussion.“Quello Che Non Voglio” (“What I don’t want”), with the light-touch vocal of Petra Magoni, organetto and double bass, lists the many things, up to death, that are not desired. “Bingeol” is a solo interpretation of Haig Hazdjian’s version of a traditional Armenian melody, and “Nu Hoppar Haren Kroka” a Swedish traditional tune joined by Daniele Sepe’s improvising tenor sax.
Mario, a lyric-filled song reflecting on a man’s life, by Pino Donaggio and Danilo Franchi, gets a powerful, passionate vocal from Peppe Voltarelli. Another high point of the album is a surprising solo instrumental arrangement and development of “I Shot The Sheriff” that would surely have delighted Bob Marley. The gentle solo “Sul Porto Di Livorno” has looped chuffing of bellows and tapping under the organetto melody with flourishes of spin-echo processing. In “Ritals,” by Gianmaria Testa, there’s a muttered dialogue between male and female voices over slow-moving drone organetto. Fito Pàez’s “Un Vestido Y Un Amor” is a sympathetic duet between organetto and Daniele di Bonaventura’s bandoneon.
D’Alessandro is the leader of Orchestra Bottoni, a big band of ten organetti plus bass, drums and singer Antonella Costanzo. A high energy treatment, with wha-wha organetto, of Franco Del Prete and James Senese's song Campagna appears here as a bonus track, recorded at a live show by the band on RAI Radio 3.