Acqua foco e vento (Water, Fire and Wind)
New traditional music from Tuscany
Felmay fy 8060
Poveri contadini, Violina, Codina, La ballata del carbonaro, Cos'è uno, Tonio Romito, Pan pentito, Pan di legno, La sposa del re, Bevanda sonnifera, La cena della sposa, luccumere, La pastorella, Maggio di Vico, Maggio di MarescaYou may, legitimately, wonder what I'm doing reviewing a CD by two revivalist performers, carrying the subtitle 'New traditional music ...' The simple answer is "Because it's a very good and enjoyable record." The more complex answer first requires a bit of history and explanation.
Riccardo Tesi is one of the world's great organetto (melodeon/button accordion) players, and has been around for a long time, despite having recorded relatively rarely. He is also very interested in the musical traditions of his home area, the mountains and valleys around Pistoia (about 30 kms NW of Florence) in northern Tuscany. His first record, Il Ballo della Lepre, released in 1985 on the old Madau Dischi label, concentrated on this music, and the present disc may be seen as a return to his first love, after some years exploring more exotic fare. This is hardly an unusual course - most musicians I know, myself included, have followed a similar path. So we may say the Riccardo has a deep love and mature understanding of this music, based on half a lifetime's experience.
Some experiences in the 'years exploring more exotic fare' are also pertinent here. Around 1994 Riccardo helped form the Italian/Sardinian 'supergroup' Ritmia, whose record Forse il mare was such a milestone in the development of 'modern' Italian folk music. This has seldom been equaled, let alone bettered, as a wide-appeal example of what can be done with traditional forms without diminishing them in the slightest. The Italians have a term which translates as 're-proposal', which they often use to describe the transition between a traditional source and its revival performance; I think it's a good term. A good deal of the re-proposal ideas which went into Forse il mare can be heard in echo form on the present CD.
If the current line-up does not include the charismatic vocals of Enrico Frongia (of Ritmia), it more than makes up for it with the contributions of Maurizio Geri. His is a name I've encountered before in the Felmay catalogue, but usually associated with more modern music. On Acqua foco e vento he is completely convincing in a more traditional setting. His voice is tuneful, clear and pleasant, yet - despite these normally pejorative adjectives - he is never annoyingly so here; indeed, he's a pleasure to listen to (sound clip - Pastorale)
His clear diction is an added bonus for a non-Italian listener who has a little of the language; like most other CDs of folk songs, a local dialect, rather than the official language, is used. But the Florentine dialect is the one upon which the official language is based, so one is able to follow the text of most of the songs with comparative ease. This is particularly the case with Cos'è uno - a Tuscan I'll Sing You One-O / Green Grow the Rushes-O, here presented unaccompanied by the half dozen or so performers on the record, complete with some very complex harmonies and someone's quite exceptional bass voice (sound clip - Cos'è uno, verses 7 and 8). Hope your PC's speakers are able to reproduce this latter!
The accompanying booklet is a lavish, full-colour, 32-page production, and gives the texts of all the songs (in Italian), two introductions - by Manuela Geri, on the Pistoian Mountains and their culture, and by Riccardo Tesi, on the project itself - and brief notes on the songs. These are all in English and French - and I must say that the former are absolutely superbly translated; a rare enough thing in record booklets. Given the printing costs of a booklet such as this, it seems unlikely that Felmay could afford separate versions for home and foreign markets ... which makes me wonder how Italian purchasers will feel about it.
Tesi's introduction indicates where, when and by whom the songs and music were collected. There's a good variety of material here; work songs, ballads, children's songs, lullabies and love songs, and the repertoire also extends to those areas which have had a particular influence on Pistoian culture - Sienna and Grosseto to the south, and across the water to Corsica, where Pistoians went for seasonal work as both shepherds and coal miners.
He says 'We've rewritten and arranged them through the filter of our own diverse musical experiences and sensibilities, with no philological or didactic design, but with much love and respect for the tradition'. I can find little to argue with in the resulting CD. It's delightful music, beautifully performed, superbly recorded - and manages to be easy to listen to and extremely interesting at the same time. It should appeal to all but the most narrow-minded of MT readers. And it's available from Felmay at their site at www.felmay.it or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org - good English is available.
Rod Stradling - 26.6.03