1. Bella Lee (3:34)
2. Parliamone (5:43)
3. Infraditi (7:36)
4. Fungo (6:42)
5 Cane di Schiena (6:32)
6. Pappa Irreale (2:27)
7. Antenna (7:59)
8. Klez (4:16)
9. Max Dembo (8:47)
Filippo Cantarella – violin, viola
Marco Ravera – electric and acoustic guitar, synthesizer
Tommaso Rolando – acoustic bass, electric bass, acoustic guitar, synthesizer, sampler, trumpet
Nando Magni – trombone
Nicola Magri – drums
Cosimo Francavilla – soprano saxophone (2)
Antonio Carletti – weird vocals (7)
In my writings I have often mentioned the lively music scene of the great port of Genoa – not surprising for a city that, throughout its long history, has been one of the many melting pots of the Mediterranean region, bringing together East and West, North and South in a heady mixture of tradition and modernity. This is the kind of fertile ground from where Fabrizio De André’s Creuza de Ma, one of the undisputed masterpieces of the whole ‘world music’ scene, originated. Five-piece Calomito, a relatively recent addition to the variegated Italian music scene, bring an unique twist to the time-honoured musical heritage of their home town, with a sound that marries the warmth of the Mediterranean with a strong international bent.
Calomito have been around since the mid-2000, releasing their debut album, Inaudito, in 2005. After a five-year hiatus and some line-up changes, the band have made a comeback with Cane di Schiena, issued in the first half of 2011 by Milan-based label AltrOck Productions (also responsible for outstanding, cutting-edge releases such as Yugen’s three albums and mirRthkon’s Vehicle). Though they have been almost forcibly placed under the RIO/Avant umbrella, Calomito are one of those bands that – luckily for fans of genuinely interesting music, much less so for those who delight in labelling everything – are extremely hard to pigeonhole, due to their boldly eclectic approach to music-making.
As a fellow Italian reviewer jokingly stated at the beginning of his own review of the album, you may want to consider taking a couple of days off in order to listen to Cane di Schiena properly. Indeed, though clocking in at a mere 53 minutes, the album presents an incredibly dense (though never claustrophobic) amount of music which unfolds with each successive listen, and therefore devoid of any immediately digestible tunes. On the other hand, unlike what many believe about any kind of music that bears even a faint whiff of ‘avant-garde’, there is nothing discordant, abrasive or random about Calomito’s sound. Each of the tracks is clearly very carefully structured, as it is nearly always the case with ‘chamber rock’ outfits – a definition that, in my view, fits Calomito to a T. Like their label mates Yugen, they transcend the boundaries of the RIO/Avant classification, and should rather be seen as purveyors of eclectic yet oddly intimate music tha requires all of the listener’s attention to be fully appreciated.
This does not imply that Cane di Schiena is one of those deadly serious albums that command a quasi-religious devotion. Calomito’s humorous disposition, which descends directly from the likes of Stormy Six and Picchio dal Pozzo (as well as the Canterbury scene, which is also a clear musical influence), immediately comes across from titles such as “Pappa Irreale”(a pun on pappa reale, the Italian for “royal jelly”) or “Infraditi” (an intentionally ungrammatical spelling of the word meaning “flip-flops”). The music itself, while quite light-hearted at times, can on occasion reach for a more subdued, sober tone. On the whole, Cane di Schiena comes across as a flawlessly executed album that never descends into a depressing or overly involved tone.
As is the case of other ‘chamber prog’ ensembles, Calomito employ a number of other instruments alongside the traditional rock trinity of bass, guitar and drums, assisted by various synthesizers. The substantial contribution of the horns evokes parallels with bands such as Miriodor, which emerge quite clearly right from the album’s opening track, “Bella Lee” – an incredibly dense 3 minutes of music; while the equally important role played by strings (violin and viola) brings instead to mind one of the best modern‘chamber rock’ outfits, Seattle-based band Moraine, as well as vintage Frank Zappa. The more upbeat passages, suggesting a jazz-rock or Canterbury matrix, made me think of Forgas Band Phenomena, though Calomito sound slightly more angular than the French band. Furthermore, while Univers Zéro’s broodingly apocalyptic production seems to be the polar opposite in tone to Calomito’s essentially cheerful approach, Nicola Magri’s stunning, beyond-merely-propulsive drumming style cannot but evoke the way in which Daniel Denis supports the whole fabric of the Belgian outfit’s sound.
Trying to describe any of the nine tracks in detail would not do any of them justice. While “Infraditi” is probably the one track with the strongest connections to the RIO/Avant school of progressive rock – an astoundingly complex, 7-minute rollercoaster ride apparently throwing in anything but the proverbial kitchen sink, from carnival-like music to jazzy touches to jagged, almost dissonant passages – the somewhat low-key “Parliamone”, true to its title (meaning “let’s talk about it”) seems to reproduce a dialogue between two persons, with horns and synthesizers in the role of human voices. The choppy, dynamic “Fungo” exemplifies the way in which Calomito use pauses to create interest, rather than produce an impression of patchiness; while the title-track’s slow, meditative mood, some passages so low as to be barely audible, produces an intense, almost mesmerizing effect.
Especially in the second half of the album some intriguingly exotic influences show up, which bring to mind comparisons with Slivovitz, another über-eclectic Italian outfit hailing from Naples, my home country’s second biggest port (and musical capital). “ Pappa Irreale”’s lilting, dance-like pace punctuated by violin is sharply redolent of Irish folk, or even American country; and the upbeat, drum-driven “Klez”, as the title points out, contains elements of klezmer and Eastern European gypsy music. A folksy also tone emerges in parts of the initially low-key “Antenna”, possibly the most complex number on the album (and the only one briefly featuring ‘weird vocals’), ending with an exhilarating crescendo in which guitar, trombone and violin seem to engage in a sort of conversation. Closing track “Max Dembo” introduces some new elements, such as spacey sound effects that enhance the powerful, rolling tone of the drums and the echoing guitar lines, as well as shades of Brazil in the relaxed, almost sultry pace of first half of the track.
In spite of the density of its musical content, Cane di Schiena is far from inaccessible, and – while undoubtedly a challenging listen – does not rely on spiky, jarring sounds to make its impact. There is plenty of melody to be found on the album, and the music possesses a natural flow and easy elegance that make listening a pleasure rather than a chore. Even though fans of traditional symphonic prog may be daunted by anything bearing the label of ‘avant-garde’, I would encourage everyone who loves progressive music to give Calomito a try. With their successful blend of technical skill, seemingly boundless creativity, eclectic influences and keen sense of humour, they are one of the most interesting bands heard in the past couple of years, and definitely one to watch.