The promo lit for Newpoli's extremely captivating Old World folkloric CD puts a very cogent spin on an old maxim: "Sometimes", it avers, "you don't understand what you have until you leave it behind", and that comes flying home with wings in Tempo Antico. The key lies in the verb 'understand', which points to living within that which so much surrounds you that you're quite unaware of it, much as the zen anecdote refers to fish oblivious to water. The eight-member Newpoli left the familiar comforts of the Berklee College of Music to study Italy's old musics first hand, and this imbued the shock of the new in the ancient, now transcribed, the discovery of the depths and colorations contained in a body of sonorities many, not just the band, had been listening much too abstractedly to, not grasping fully what was there.
That journey to the Mediterranean land-boot resulted in a freshness and vivacity that is striking. Newpoli resuscitates tradition splendidly while breathing new life and energies into the repertoire. There's much of the tarantella here, which, in case you hadn't known, refers to a frenzy said to follow the bite of the tarantula spider, but you needn't heed that mythology if you don't want, instead perking your ears up and your limbs down to the back-country hedonisms and joyous indulgences dripping with élan and vivacity. Lead singers Angela Rossi and Carmen Marsico are enticing, alternating between perky upper register encanting and poetic longing. The instrumentalists are intoxicating and really shine in Antidotum Tarantulae / Tarantula del '600.
Not everything is a matter of dancing and singing in meadows, though, Funtana che tantalizing the listener in its laconically bright refrains rather than provoking a turning away from emotional pain and distress. Other sections clearly show Gregorian chant influences back and forth, drawing from the richness of the temper of the times most of the trad songs were scribed within (the mid-1500s). If you're a fan of Les Voix Bulgares, Cocteau Twins, Bel Canto, Shelleyan Orphan, and that sort of thing, Tempo Antico is going to make your day, week, and month. You're also going to understand why Federico Fellini was so enraptured with Italy's elder ways and airs, why Bartok so strongly favored long-neglected regional compositions there and elsewhere, and why Vangelis (esp. with Aphrodite's Child) and The Long Hello Band could wring such beauty and fascinations from canons most of us never guessed existed in nearby terrain.
- Mark Tucker