Firstly, an apology: back in November last year Stefano Giannotti, leader of Italian band OTEME sent me this CD, and since the 24th of that month it has sat, still in its shrinkwrap, in my never diminishing “to do” pile. Having reviewed this fine group’s previous and first album il giardino disincantato, I should have known that L’Agguato, L’Abbandono, Il Mutamento would turn out to be a much needed breath of fresh air, and to put it simply one of the best albums of 2015. Why it sat there on its lonesome on my CD shelf, untouched and unloved for so long, I really have no idea. All I can say is, sorry Stefano!
I was tempted to end this review here, but I’m not that much of a tease…
The acronym OTEME reads as “Osservatorio delle Terre Emerse”, or “Observatory of Dry Lands”. From the top of his rarefied but never arid ivory tower, Stefano looks ever toward the musical horizon for inspiration, assembling a thoughtful mix of chamber music with some deftly subtle colouration provided by lightly avant rock instrumentation and intricate arrangements. The clever but never elitist music and the highly poetic lyrics, written and sung in Italian, that ultimate of romantic tongues make for a charming and calming combination. The lovely CD booklet, like the debut album, has provided English translations of the words by Bonnie Eldred, a thoughtful inclusion for us shamefully language-ignorant Anglos. The words use the natural world as metaphor for inner struggle, amongst other things, and reading along to the lyrics as they are sung in a different language is actually not at all jarring, such is the flowing nature of the verse, both in English and Italian.
The music for this release was composed over a long period, dating back to the 1990s, and recorded last year. The ensemble intermittently display a slight Canterbury air, as the lovely example above shows, but the way the instruments are arranged give rise to a quite distinctive sound that never lurches into dissonance while waiting for a new idea to form. The songform and melody build the base on which the Observatory stands, and it can be said that this is highly accessible music, but probably different to anything else out there.
L’Agguato, L’Abbandono, Il Mutamento (‘The Ambush, The Abandonment, The Change’) consists of ten tracks varying in length from under two to over twenty five minutes. Yes, there’s an “epic” on here, although that applies only to its length and never its construction. There are no moments of grandiose bombast to be found on this effortless beauty of a record. In fact, the whole thing has a distinctly feminine vibe to it, despite most of the players being male. Points are made through the power of words and the gentle thematic shifts in the music, which never relies on excessive showmanship to underscore its purpose.
The electric guitar makes some light-fingered avant flurries at the conclusion of Camminavo, but other than that has hardly appeared before the following L’agguato, where it approximates a hacking cough for a few bars, largely disappearing again before Tracce nel nulla, where it is allowed a short but spiky and purposeful solo. Those latter two moments are the only instances on the record where one is reminded that OTEME are supposedly within a “rock” sphere, but their orbit is so far flung that one tends to forget, not that it matters a jot as the chamber orchestra do their classical and light jazz infused thing with aplomb.
The arrangements are complex and as I possess only the most fleeting knowledge of musical technicalities, probably best left undescribed. Percussion plays a large part in these tunes, with Stefano’s Jew’s harp lending a helping of humour to Il mutamento (Bolero second), a tune that briefly turns into a 1920s dance jazz number before leaving us with an explicit wink. In any event the album is fleet of foot and lighthearted, there is no dark musing on one’s pointless existence within these zeros and ones, which in itself makes a nice change.
If you like adventurous music and like to step outside your particular fluffy comfort zone now and again, this classy and gorgeous sounding album is for you.
Stefano also works as a music teacher, and I came across this version of Pink Floyd’s Echoes while looking for the clip in the review. I don’t recall music lessons being anything like this!
01. La grande volta (2:23)
02. Sarà il temporal (3:38)
03. Bianco richiamo (3:22)
04. Camminavo (6:38)
05. L’agguato (2:28)
06. L’abbandono (3:48)
07. Il mutamento (Bolero second) (1:59)
08. Doppo la pioggia (5:00)
09. Tracce nel nulla (25:48)
10. Un’altra volta (1:52)
Total time – 56:59
Valeria Marzocchi – Piccolo, Flute
Linda Matteucci – Flute
Nicola Bimbi – Oboe, English Horn
Giorgio Berrugi – Clarinet
Lorenzo Del Pecchia – Bass Clarinet
Marco Donatelli – Bassoon
Maicol Pucci – Trumpet, Flugelhorn
Marco Fagioli – Bass Tuba
Stefano Giannotti – Voice, Piano, Classical & Electric Guitars, Banjo, Indian Organ, Jew’s Harp, Percussion
Valentina Cinquini – Harp
Emanuela Lari – Voice, Keyboards
Pierluigi Papeschi – Electric Guitar
Milko Ambrogini – Bass Guitar
Ricardo Ienna – Drums & Percusssion
Record Label: Ma.Ra.Cash Records
Year Of Release: 2015