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(43:13, Moonjune Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Egiziaca 6:57 2. Cleopatra Through 5:23 3. Fat 5:20 4. Vascello 6:05 5. 02-09 5:37 6. Opus Focus 3:51 7. Bani Ahead 5:51 8. Pocho 5:03 LINEUP: Pietro Santangelo – saxophones Marcello Giannini – el. guitar Domenico Angarano – basses Salvatore Rainone – drums Circo Riccardi – trumpet Derek Di Peri – harmonica Riccardo Villari – violins
Prolusion. Italy’s SLIVOVITZ is back with a new album. Titled “Bani Ahead”, this is an eight-track recording, and was released last autumn via MoonJune Records, which is definitely one of the most ‘serious’ contemporary American record labels (no matter that it’s a one-man company), managed by Leonardo Pavcovic. Those, who are still not in the know about the origin of the band’s name, click here and read the first paragraph: it’s quite curious.
Analysis. Following on the heels of its acclaimed 2010 recording “Hubris”, Slivovitz continues to push the limit, emphasizing balanced arrangements with emotive woodwinds and violin together with electric guitar, bass and drums. While the ensemble is still a septet, featuring only one new member, its sound has changed on a few levels: there are neither vocals nor non-European ethnic, namely Latin-American and African, motifs on this album, which is undoubtedly a positive factor, to my mind. Besides, unlike its predecessor, “Bani Ahead” draws influences not only from rock, jazz and folk music (all of which perfectly coexist with each other now), but also from RIO, Space Fusion and even Classical. Of the six tracks that have a full-band sound, the title one, Egiziaca and Cleopatra Through are composed by saxophonist Pietro Santangelo, Vascello and 02-09 by guitar player Marcello Giannini, and Fat by bassist Domenico Angarano, and all of them instantly signal to the listener that their respective authors each have their personal approach to composition. The former three pieces bring together classic Anglo-American Jazz-Fusion and one that’s inspired by Balkan Folk music (sounding like early Weather Report or even the Emir Kusturitza Band when many of the musicians play in unison) along with elements of Space Fusion on some occasions. Although not instantly striking, a strong RIO sensibility of the Miriodor variety pervades the guitarist’s pieces, while jazz-fusion and brass-rock features play for the most part a subsidiary role here. Containing some menacing guitar phrases, which are not too remote from Present in style, both of them are brilliant contrasting pieces that show how the ensemble can easily create an eerie atmosphere and make it work well in the context of an entire creation. Finally, Fat begins and develops much as classical music performed by means of a chamber rock ensemble, retaining a subtle-to-glaring symphonic quality to it almost throughout. One way or another, on all of these tracks Slivovitz appears as one of the few contemporary jazz-fusion bands that construct intelligent, almost totally composed creations, brightened with colorful, fully cohesive arrangements. Of course, with an average track length of around 6 minutes, there is ample time to develop the music, which goes through many sections and turns, and still reveals plenty of variations therein. As to the remaining two tracks, Opus Focus and Pocho, what strikes the listener first of all is that none of them feature a rhythm section. The former tune sets a delicate tone between Marcello’s guitar and Pietro’s saxophone (whose respective solos are accompanied by echoes, via the Delay device) before involving two more wind instruments in the ‘conversation’, resulting in a soft, moody piece, full of a magical aura. The music is probably Jazz Ambient, but it’s the one of the highest order. With handclaps appearing as its central ‘feature’, the first half of Pocho sounds just awful. The rest of it is musically better, definitely, at one point even revealing a full-fledged jazz-fusion move, but anyhow, in its entirety the thing leaves very much to be desired. At least, it was wise of the band to use it as the record’s last track, so I can easily omit it and even shut my eyes to it when rating the album. Looking over the album as a whole again, I’d like to add that, while there are two primary masterminds behind it, the guitarist more often appears as a crucial member of the ensemble – perhaps because we deal with four woodwinds here and only one guitar which, moreover, very rarely plays in unison with those. However, it’s Derek Di Peri who surprised me most of all. The man is highly active on this album, just working wonders with his harmonica, and it’s the first time in my life that I hear the instrument being in all senses a full-fledged component of a progressive rock ensemble.
Conclusion. “Bani Ahead” is full of surprises almost at every turn, all at first seeming to benefit from a great variety in composition. In fact, however, the writing isn’t really crucial to the album’s success. The key element that unites this terrific musical triumph is the arrangement. Although the majority of the tracks list the above two members of the group as their authors, each of them comes across as a 100-percent ensemble effort, and I just can't believe the soloing parts of bass and drums, let alone those of violin, harmonica and trumpet, were invited by anyone else but by the implying musicians themselves. In any event, “Bani Ahead” is a masterwork and is one of the last year’s very best releases: Top-10-2011.
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