Sterbus – Solar Barbecue

Sterbus – Solar Barbecue

Cardiacs, eh?

Some of you out there must like them – hands up!

One, two… three. A few more at the back. That’s good, but those who do like the band know wholeheartedly that you can’t just ‘like’ Cardiacs; once they hook you in its a love affair that will last a lifetime. Those unfamiliar with them need to sort themselves out.

One such collection of adherents is Italian band Sterbus, centred around Emanuele Sterbini and Dominique D’Avanzo. A lover of instrumental music, kick-started by Frank Zappa, Emanuele began writing his own songs with “different sections, twists and turns, little quotes of this or that musical hero, playful arrangements … like a movie for the ears!”, a direction accentuated upon discovering Tim Smith and Cardiacs.

Emanuele has long held an ambition to put together a collection of “all the instrumental/crazy/useless-noodling/self-indulgent/wanky/rockambulesque stuff” recorded by Sterbus over the last ten years, and here it is in the form of the sheer focused exuberance of Solar Barbecue – nine tracks done and dusted in a bewilderingly entertaining half-hour.

The pieces are largely reworkings of previous recordings from across Sterbus’ career, with a few from Real Estate / Fake Inverno, previously reviewed for TPA by Roger Trenwith. From the brief harpsichord and recorder intro of Billa, it’s clear that this is not going to be an album that hangs about. The benign presence of Tim Smith is immediately apparent, with clear nods to his errant and greatly missed genius throughout the album, the madness satisfyingly tied up under a self-deprecating ‘FILE UNDER: UNPOPULAR’ tagline.

The one new track, The Great Wallop Dollop, is a resounding organ-led wig out, with some great guitar, of both electric and acoustic stripes, leading into a piano led orchestral section as it stampedes through its imaginative two-minute duration to a resounding conclusion. Back to Black Delivery‘s delicate wind section entre gets kicked upstairs on a belting rock rhythms, returning as arch punctuation throughout. It’s all beautifully put together and intoxicatingly ‘right’, brief solos and organ driving it along in the carefree whirl of a full-bodied sound.

It’s fair to say that Emanuele has a keen ear for an arrangement, and the decision to repurpose these previous works is a good one. Razor Legs is a strident Cardiacs inflected rock out, with left-turns aplenty, given more momentum by lugubrious saxo-ma-phone and the presence of Cardiacs drummer Bob Leith, right through to his heartfelt shout of “Bollocks!” to round it off. So far so breathless, the pieces are excellent and the delivery spot-on.

Ruben, Raja, Lieve, Nike is an orchestral breather, but none the less for that as Tim Smith’s incorrigible compositional DNA leaks into Sterbini’s brain and it builds to an iconoclastic Sing to God-like peak, falling back to a lonely ebbing piano. Gorgeous.

This isn’t studious recycling or pastiche, it’s music built from a similar worldview, influenced in a way that only deep held love for the original can manifest, but it retains that pulse of individuality, and that’s what makes it special. Mad sax madness, courtesy a sampled Lonnie Shetter recording from 1970, is an early feature of The Amazing Frozen Yoghurt, which leaps about like a squirrel on a hotplate, and Any Minute Now is a thundering guitar solo that kind of mashes the Smith and Zappa influences gleefully together, with Congratulator its odd companion piece, taking some of the same central groundwork and building it out in new directions as it skips from idea to idea in a fully developed whole.

Finally Big Daisy whips us to the tape – even including a brief hint of Mexicalia to give your brain a start.

And we’re breathlessly done. As a whole it leaves your synapses crackling, and a sense of inadequacy as you wonder how mere humans can put this kind of stuff together without going mad. Or maybe they do…? If you’re a Cardiacs acolyte, this will be right up your wonky pop street, shot through with fantastic playing from all concerned and Emanuele’s equally odd sensibilities. If you’re not, just give it a go and be sucked into a world of possibilities that you might not have considered previously. It’s the RIGHT thing to do.

01. Billa (0:31)
02. The Great Wallop Dollop (2:35)
03. Back to Black Delivery (4:18)
04. Razor Legs (4:08)
05. Ruben, Raja, Lieve, Nike (1:54)
06. The Amazing Frozen Yoghurt (3:02)
07. Any Minute Now (1:01)
08. Congratulator (3:47)
09. Big Daisy (3:46)

Total time – 25:02

Emanuele Sterbini – Bass, Electric & Acoustic Guitars, Keyboards, Organ, Gong, Vocals, Vibes, Drum Programming
Dominique D’Avanzo – Recorders, Flute, Clarinet, Tenor Saxophone, Gong, Vocals
Riccardo Piergiovanni – Harpsichord (track 1), Piano (2 & 4), Synthesisers (2), Organ (3), Marimba (4), Electric Piano (4), Mellotron (5)
Paolo Sala – Narration (track 2), Drums (7)
Edoardo Taddei – Stunt Guitar Solo (track 2)
Pablo Tarli – Drums (track 2)
Emanuele Binelli – Gong (track 2)
Valerio Minelli – Guitar Solo (track 3)
Valentino Nardi – Drums (track 3)
Francesco Grammatico – Trombone (track 3), Trumpet (3,5), Cello (5)
Claudio Cavallaro – Clarinet (track 4)
Carlo Schneider – Alto Saxophone (track 4)
Moira Ceccaroli – Vocals (track 4)
Nick Prol – Vocals (track 4)
Brenda Gaga – Tambourine (tracks 4 & 5), Synth Sweep (4)
Bob Leith – Drums (tracks 4 & 5)
Lonnie Shetter – Tenor Saxophone Solo (sample from Don Ellis at Fillmore (1970) (track 6)
Francesco Gaglione – Cello, Trumpet, Trombone (track 9)

Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: Italy
Date of Release: 2nd December 2022

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