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Assenza (Eikasìa)
Teatrini de Escher (Teatrini di Escher)
Calligrafie (Dario Congedo e Nàdan)
Agàpi (Massaro / Nigro Duo)
Artist releases (

The region of Salento, located in the heel of Italy's boot, has since 1998, when it established its renowned Notte della Taranta festival, become a folk revival headquarters. In the hands of younger talents like pianist Admir Shkurtaj (recently reviewed in RootsWorld), Salentine traditions have not only been revamped but also reconstructed in a color wheel of genres. Of those, Desuonatori represents the most jazz-oriented strand of the neo-folk crowd. Under the creative direction of Valerio Daniele, this collective of Salento natives operates in various groupings under an umbrella of artistic integrity and freedom of expression, both of which nourish the music's improvisational grammar.

Daniele and his musicians often joke among themselves that their music is meaningless (it's not, of course), that it's as ephemeral as the breath used to describe it. Their decision to make the music available for free online reflects this philosophy, although physical copies, in limited quantities, are available for a small donation. The discs themselves, housed in oblong folds of thick paper, sport mythic, hybrid animals on their covers.

Emblematic among these is Eikasia's Assenza (Absence), which depicts a wolf with bird's wings. Despite appearing on the title track only (playing an electric baritone guitar with an EBow), Daniele's hand is nevertheless present in the creations of guitarist Alessando Dell'Anna, trumpeter Giorgio Distante, bassist Stefano Compagnone, and drummer Maurizio De Tommasi. The band's name refers to the Platonic possibility that we may not be able to distinguish between dream and reality. That very blurriness obscures the imagery painted by “Il tango dell'attesa” (The tango of waiting) and lends nostalgia to the carnivalesque “Io e Frank M.” (Me and Frank M.). Most of the album is reminiscent of early Pat Metheny, evoking in “Il ballo dei coriandoli” (The confetti dance) and “Valzer nel barattolo” (Waltz in a jar) a likeminded feeling of on-the-road travel.


A formidable guitarist in his own right, Daniele leads Teatrini de Escher with even deeper élan. Joined by trumpeter Giorgio Distante, violinist Roberta Mazzotta, and drummer-percussionist Vito De Lorenzi, here he traverses a shuffling of thematic pieces centered around times of day (morning, noon, and night), spontaneous creation (the two so-called “Abstractions”), and three tracks called “Theatres,” each of which explores a scenography of daily life with a warped folk quality that, at times, elicits shades of Sephardim, especially in the interactions between acoustic guitar and percussion. Such moments feel very much of a time and place, all leading toward the luminescent yearning of “Un abisso leggero” (A light abyss).


The collaboration of drummer Dario Congedo & Nàdan yields Calligrafie, a multidisciplinary mixture of percussion, synth, basses (courtesy of Luca Alemanno), Distante's trumpet, the reeds of Francesco Massaro, and Daniele on guitars. Inspired by cities Daniele has lived in or loved (“Città d'inverno,” for example, references Tallinn and, obliquely, the music of Arvo Pärt), these tracks emote with the joy of a Fellini film. Indeed, much of this groove-oriented album stews in a cinematic broth. Moods span the dreamy soundscapes of “Calligrafia” and “Appunti lunari” to the grungier abstractions of “Sotto I mandorli,” and all with a fascinating attention to detail.


Yet the most integrated album of them all is Agàpi. This duo recording of Massaro (on alto clarinet and baritone sax) and accordionist Rocco Nigro puts new spins on Italian folksongs and pays homage to a host of artists, including bandoneón master Dino Saluzzi and translator-poet Vittorio Bodini. What separates this album from the rest is its sense of adventure.

The title track, in three iterations, and the ethereal “Aurora” bear the stamp of having been recorded outdoors, crickets and all. These ambient touches lend sanctity to the sometimes-abstract proceedings. Other notables include a set of variations on the antiwar song “Klama” and the Italian-Turkish hybrid that is “Occhi Turchini/Mevlana” (“Mevlana” being another name for 13th-century Persian poet Rumi). Although stranger and more distorted than its present company, Agàpi showcases simpatico musicianship and a distinctly political edge, as honed to sharpest point in “A Chatila,” which I can only imagine references the 1982 massacre in Lebanon. Its touch is poignant, tasteful, and gently reminds us that sometimes the most powerful music is born from fatality.

The many figures of Desuonatori's world stand at the crossroads of free improv and European street music (viz: Mandible Chatter as a jazz band), allowing us to taste regional specialties with unforeseen spices thrown in for good measure. Given the consistency of vision embodied by all of these musicians, one album is as good a place as any to start. The experience is more than worth the effort it takes to click a mouse. - Tyran Grillo


For more information and moneyless access to all of the above music and more, check out Desuonatori's official website.


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