Newpoli Make Elegant and Exciting Connections in Old and New Italian Music
Along with the recent explosion in Romany music and Romany-flavored rock, there’s been a resurgence in interest in Italian folk music, which can be just as wild and feral. Italian folk revivalists Newpoli‘s debut album Tempo Antico goes in the other direction. There are a handful of tarantellas, but even those are more elegant than they are a desperate attempt to whirl and sweat out the lethal spider’s bite. Rather, the concept is to find commonalities throughout some pretty diverse styles of Italian music, and the results are eye-opening. Most of the ancient songs here are from around Naples and Puglia. There are also medieval classical pieces that very vividly pilfer folk themes (validating the composer’s adage that if a hook is too catchy, it must be from a folk tune). The 20th century is also represented, but with nothing like the cheesy Italian songs you might hear at a baseball stadium (specifically, before or during New York Mets games). The recording, made at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lynn in Swampscott, Massachusetts adds a tantalizing natural reverb to the sonics. The ensemble features Angela Rossi and Carmen Marsico on vocals, Bjorn Wennas on classical guitar, Roberto Cassan on accordion, Fabio Pirozzollo on percussion, Daniel Meyers on reeds, Megumi Sataaki on violin, Sean Farias on bass and guest John LaBarbera on acoustic guitar, mandola and mandolin.
The opening track contrasts lively vocals with a careful proto-baroque pulse – so this is where Albinoni and Corelli got their ideas! – and then morphs into a joyously circling dance, accordion handing off to Meyers’ searing, overtone-charged clarinet. The second track sounds like an English sailors’ hornpipe dance, the third an elegant, rustic pavan of sorts from 1545. The ensemble draws a vivid line back to ancient tarantella grooves with a 1957 noir cabaret-tinged pop song, then return to the roots of the baroque.
They follow a slightly arioso, crescendoing 1916 song with a tongue-twisting rondo credited to the great pre-baroque choral composer Orlando de Lassus. The most haunting passages here come at the beginning of a Pugliese tarantella that reminds of noir Mexican revivalists Las Rubias Del Norte; then the band picks it up and it becomes another one of those quasi-hornpipes. Then they explore the trope again: stately intro, boisterous dance, like a Jewish hora in different scales.
A brooding guitar/accordion tune from 1930 closely resembles the Romany-influenced French and Belgian musettes of that era. They follow that with one of the most eye-opening numbers here, another Lassus antiphon with Bulgarian-tinged, melismatic vocals: what kind of cross-pollination was going on back then? Or is this the band putting a neat Balkan spin on early Italian classical music? They keep that vibe going with a medieval Pugliese love song and close with an unexpectedly carefree tarantella, maybe a post-extermination dance.