Marco Cappelli’s Italian Surf Academy – The American Dream – Mode

by | Aug 19, 2012 | Jazz CD Reviews

Marco Cappelli’s Italian Surf Academy – The American Dream – Mode MOC-CD-A13, 47:24 [7/31/12] ***1/2:
(Marco Cappelli– electric guitar; Luca Lo Bianco – bass guitar; Francesco Cusa – drums, percussion; Gaia Matteuzzi – vocals (tracks 5, 6))
Italian guitarist Marco Cappelli’s surf-tinted release, The American Dream, is subtitled as “music of a different mode” and that is an apt description of the ten tracks created by his trio, Marco Cappelli’s Italian Surf Academy. Cappelli’s instrumentals (with vocal assistance on two tracks) are not what surf music traditionalists may expect (the pieces skew closer to avant-garde jazz akin to John Zorn or Marc Ribot than the Ventures), and there is only one tune, Johnny Rivers’ “Secret Agent Man,” which typically shows up on surf music set lists: it is also the only American cover. Mostly, Cappelli generates unique translations of material from his native land by film composers such an Ennio Morricone, Luis Bacalov, Carlo Rustichelli, Riz Ortolani and Piero Umiliani, who all scored Italian spaghetti westerns, exploitation movies, comedic flicks and more: they often utilized melodic and/or instrumental shadings culled from surf music, spy/adventure soundtracks and likeminded sources. It was these roundabout influences which ultimately led Cappelli to coordinate this record.
Cappelli studied music in Italy and has worked in the classical, free improv and avant-garde scenes with Enrico Rava, Elliott Sharp, Markus Stockhausen and others, issued three solo guitar CDs, recorded with his Ensemble Dissonanzen, and is associated with Zorn’s Tzadik label. Everything gelled after Cappelli moved to New York to be nearer to other artists with a mutual empathy. His friend Ribot inspired Cappelli to think about American surf music, “The repertoire was in my background,” Cappelli said. “The challenge was to mix my improvisational approach with this kind of stuff.” The eventual result was this trio project: Cappelli on electric guitar, electric bassist Luca Lo Bianco (who has also collaborated with Sharp, is a member of the collective Naked Musicians and, like Cappelli, has classical music experience) and drummer Francesco Cusa (who also is in the Naked Musicians cooperative and has performed with Kenny Wheeler, Steve Lacy, Tim Berne and others).
The proceedings commence with Cappelli’s sole original, “Eva Kant,” a two-minute, solo guitar sortie filled with trepidation and dread, open feedback, distortion, reverb, echo and a tormented effects box. The short cut is titled after a female character from the Italian Diabolik comic book series and Mario Bava’s subsequent 1968 movie, Danger: Diabolok, starring the anti-hero of the same name. Presumably that film had a large impact on Cappelli, since he also converts two Morricone pieces from the soundtrack. Up first is the 1960s pop pastiche, “Deep Deep Down,” with Gaia Matteuzzi on guest Italian vocals, although the tune’s midsection is flipped into an ascending, reverb-flushed instrumental break. The trio returns to the pop arrangement for the song’s ending. More modernistic is “Driving Decoy,” which has a progressing pulse and features Cappelli’s subtle to muscular six-string bending. The threesome’s anxiety-drilled music is overlaid with overdubbed English dialogue from the motion picture, which puts the music into context but also seems superfluous. Bava was a major figure in Italian film culture, so it is no surprise the Italian Surf Academy renders other themes connected with the director. They reorganize Umiliani’s “Cinque Bambole,” found on Bava’s 1970 whodunit/murder picture 5 Bambole per la Luna D’agosto (English translation, Five Dolls for an August Moon). While the arrangement uses a traditional Italian melody as an initial aspect, the threesome quickly dispense with the melody and pivot to a lightly strident tone which pushes toward progressive rock terrain. Rustichelli’s central refrain for Bava’s 1964 notorious stalk-and-kill flick, Blood and Black Lace, retains a lingering sinisterly quality, made via Cappelli’s understated but eerie guitar effects and Lo Bianco’s sidling bass parts: you can almost feel a masked predator lurking in a nearby shadowed area.
The longest and one of the best tracks is a Morricone medley of “The Sundown/San Antonio Mission,” from Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). Cappelli, Lo Bianco and Cusa dissect and deconstruct Morricone’s melodic lines, sometimes replicating them with poignancy and at other times shredding the music into dissonant threads. The number’s second half is lyrical, while the first half is nervous and apprehensively tingling, like violence just waiting for a trigger. Another fine effort from the spaghetti western genre is Bacalov’s main title theme from Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 release, Django, where the three musicians mesh surf music influences (there’s some Dick Dale styling at the beginning which is echoed at the conclusion) and unpredictable avant-garde leanings which show some Zorn-ish and early Bill Frisell predilections. The most famous track is probably “Secret Agent Man,” with the definitive guitar riff which alludes to John Barry’s James Bond theme, and has been covered by seemingly everyone, from Bruce Willis to Devo. This is where the Italian Surf Academy is truest to the established surf music genre, with a revised reworking which will nonetheless appeal to purists.
TrackList: Eva Kant; Django; Cinque Bambole; The Sundown/San Antonio Mission; Sesso Matto; Deep Deep Down; Tiffany Sequence; Blood and Black Lace; Driving Decoy; Secret Agent Man.
—Doug Simpson

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