Off-Center Views 2013

Newpoli Brings Italian Music to Life


Tempo Antico
Beartones
* * * *

What is it Joni Mitchell sang? “You don’t know what you’ve got/till it’s gone." Translate that into Italian and it could be the official motto for the octet Newpoli. Ten years ago a group of Italians left their homeland for Boston’s Berklee College of Music. A few lineup shifts and a couple of albums later and we get Tempo Antico, the ensemble’s third album. As the handle Newpoli suggests, the ensemble specializes in songs and tunes from Napoli and points south. For those unfamiliar with Italian music, place it in the live-large/live joyously niche occupied by Quebecois, Klezmer, and Cajun music. Italy is a land prone to drama, and you’ll hear that on this record–soaring operatic voices, wild tarantella dance cadences, lyrical canzones…. The 13 tracks on Tempo Antico are often madrigal-like in presentation, as befits material largely drawn from the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. It is not, however, “ancient music" as that term is used in classical music. The musicians of Newpoli might have fancy education and impeccable credentials, but they are also keenly aware of the fact that Neapolitans were/are not known for slavish devotion to decorum, that the tarantella is an up-tempo (6/8 and 18/8) folk dance, and that peasants sang these songs as well as opera singers. Nor are they interested in preserving music in amber–you will hear Arabic and Greek influences in arrangements in which piccolo shares musical space with violins, accordions are as dignified (or not) as flutes, and tambourines give contrabass a run for its percussive money. Best of all, Newpoli made sure the music would unfold with unstuffy freshness by recording it live in an acoustically balanced church (in Swampscott, MA). This is a zesty album of unbridled joy. This reviewer accepts no responsibility for anyone who sheds shoes, suits, and inhibitions while partaking of it.

Rob Weir