Tre Martelli

Semper Viv

Dunya Records fy 8048

Readers of what was then Folk Roots magazine may remember a whole string of enthusiastic reviews I wrote from 1982 to 1995 of recordings made by the northern Italian band I Tre MartelliCover pictureWhat I particularly liked about their music was the way in which it seemed to reflect my own, albeit limited, experience of the people of Piemont, the food, the wine, the general ambience of the place.  I was also pleased to find that (unlike many bands of the time, both in Italy and elsewhere) they appeared less concerned with technique than with enjoying the music.  And I was very happy to find that, when I helped organise a few tours for them in the UK, almost everyone who heard them seemed to share my opinion.

Tre Martelli have been on the scene for 25 years now, and this current CD is an anthology of 33 songs and tunes taken from their first five records, and marking their quarter-centenary.  It is also a valuable point of entry to the musical traditions of southern Piemont.  Because, over the years, they have patiently reconstructed the folk music heritage of the geographical triangle between Monferrato, Langhe and Alessandrino, with an extension into the mountainous Quattro Province area, gathering together a huge repertoire of drinking songs, ballads, instrumentals and dance music from waltzes to polkas.  The group's ethnomusicological research, as well as being a model of scholarly precision, also stands as a heartfelt acknowledgement of those singers and musicians from whom they learned their material - and who they regularly visited as friends, shared concert stages with, and even included on their records.

The selection of 33 tracks from over 100 must, inevitably, result in a few choices which a fan, or a reviewer, would disagree with, but I can't see anyone who encountered the band on tour on on disc being too disappointed with the tracklist on offer here.  Having said that - and since many of you will have come across Tre Martelli before - I'm not intending to do a track-by-track analysis or pick out a list of favourites.  Instead, I'd like to give you an edited version of the sleevenotes on the history of the band, which may be of some interest.

It all began in Alessandria in the Spring of 1977 when three of the members of rock-jazz band Angostura, originally founded in 1974, (Lorenzo Boioli, Renzo Ceroni and Enzo Conti), decided to experiment with new acoustic sounds, interweaving ethnic influences with medieval and renaissance music.

And so to the existing Angostura mix, the trio added the flutes and recorders that Lorenzo had been collecting over the years as well as some ‘family’ instruments (the fiddle and melodeon that had belonged to Enzo's great-grandfather, and Renzo's father's mandolin) laying down the foundations of what would be the group's future sound.  The first months of rehearsal resulted in a short concert where the group were asked to set to music a story written for Alessandria schoolchildren entitled La leggenda dei tre martelli (the legend of the three hammers) which was also to become the group's new name.

By one of those odd coincidences that some choose to call destiny, it was only some weeks later that the Tre Martelli project really took off, when Angostura had all their instruments and PA stolen, marking the end of the rock-jazz group and the coming together of its remaining members (percussionist Marco Goggi and guitarist-bassist Riccardo Maso) in the newly formed Tre Martelli.

In February 1978 Riccardo left the group.  His replacement was ‘country’ guitarist, Claudio Gigli who was joined by the cellist Roberto Cavagnoli.  Shortly afterwards recording began on a demo-tape, Danza di Luglio, featuring a number of tracks rooted in Piemontese folk music, which soon became the group's exclusive focus.  Their repertoire was based mainly on the ethno musicological studies of the Trata Birata Cultural Association which were starting around that time, and the group began to operate under the aegis of this association.

Thus began a long season of concerts which saw frequent changes to the group's line-up including the departure of Marco and Lorenzo, the latter hooking up with a young band called La Ciapa Rusa for the recording of their first ‘historic’ record.  Joining Tre Martelli meanwhile were singer Bernadette Da Dalt from the Susa Valley, flautist and clarinettist Franco Pierino, and the young fiddler Andrea Sibilio.

It was this line-up which recorded the 1982 cassette Trata Birata.  The band subsequently began touring abroad, leading to further line-up changes: out went Roberto and Franco and in came Gianni Ricci on hurdy gurdy and flautist Paolo Lodici for the albums Giacu Trus (1985) and La Tempesta (1987).  For these recordings the band were joined by other musicians who would become longtime collaborators, both as ethnomusicological consultants and as guests on records and on tour: multi- instrumentalist, singer and composer Domenico Torta; the great jazz accordionist Gianni Coscia who had fallen in love with folk music; and singer Vincenzo ‘Ciacio’ Marchelli who became a full-time member from 1988.

In 1989 Claudio left the group to go back to playing country music, while Lorenzo Boioli (fresh from his experience with La Ciapa Rusa) was lured back for good to the ranks of the Tre Martelli during a tour in the UK.  It was thus in the form of an octet that the group went in to the studio to record the CD Brüzč Carvč; the most recent album featured on this anthology.

Tre Martelli subsequently recorded another two CDs with slightly modified line-ups, Omi e Paiz (1995) and Car der Steili (2000), both still available on Felmay and therefore not featured in this collection.  Instead, as a bonus, they decided to include several tracks performed by the current line-up at a concert in held in Alessandria's Teatro Comunale on May 5th 2001.

This is a lovely album of excellent material, none of which (I think) has ever before appeared in CD format, played and sung by a really nice bunch of people whose warmth and enthusiasm jumps straight out of your speakers.  Highly recommended.

The CD is available from the Felmay website at

Rod Stradling - 16.5.02

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