Marco Cappelli’s Italian Surf Academy

The American Dream
Mode/Avant MOD CD-A13

By Ken Waxman

Comfortable improvising with advanced musicians including percussionist Andrea Centazzo and keyboardist Anthony Coleman, Italian guitarist Marco Cappelli takes a left turn with this CD, interpretating themes from Italian western and spy films of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Rather than copying the lush orchestrations of the originals though, he’s stripped the accompaniment down to feature harsh fuzz-tone licks from his guitar, pumping bass guitar lines from Luca Lo Bianco and drummer Francesco Cusa’s meaty backbeat.

At the same time, despite the band’s name, Cappelli, Cusa who has worked with saxophonists Tim Berne and Gianni Gebbia, and Lo Bianco, are more sophisticated players than surf music heroes like Dick Dale. With stylish arrangements that make ample use of reverb, distortion and contrapuntal motifs, The American Dream highlights links between The Astronauts and Ennio Morricone, while bringing humor and chops to the proceedings.

Fine examples of this are “Cinque Bambole”, composed by Piero Umiliani for Cinque Bambole per la Luna d’Agosto and “The Sundown/San Antonio Mission” from Morricone’s famous soundtrack for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. On top of Cusa’s intense beat, the first tune features Cappelli’s staccato picking and oscillating quivers subtly moving to higher registers before the head reappears. As for the second, Lo Bianco and Cappelli distend their strings and combine the results in such a way to approximate organ-like tremolos. Meantime Cusa’s shuffles underscore the gradual introduction of a more delicate secondary melody that slowly replaces the initial spiky theme.

For added faux-coolness, Armando Trovajoli “Sesso Matto” from Sessomatto, and Morricon’s “Deep Deep Down” from Danger: Diabolik, both feature the interpretive vocals of Gaia Matteuzzi, usually found in more avant-garde setting. Easily adapting, Matteuzzi, adds Jane Birkin-like laughs and heavy breathing to the stabbing guitar runs and electric piano-like chording highlighted alongside Cusa’s snapping percussion on “Sesso Matto”. Then her straightforward vocalizing of the naïve Italian lyrics on “Deep Deep Down” meets plucked bass lines and drumming that seems to have migrated from a ‘60s discotheque.

Overall The American Dream is a sonic funhouse mirror that reflects stylized pop and rock, while the trio’s clever solos signals the in-joke that top jazz players were in the studio bands which initially produced this music.

Tracks: 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

Personnel: Marco Cappelli: electric guitar; Luca Lo Bianco: bass guitar; Francesco Cusa: drums; Gaia Matteuzzi: voice*

—For New York City Jazz Record October 2012