Slivovitz

Hubris

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Examine the individual puzzle pieces comprising the sound of Slivovitz, and each piece isn't terribly avant-garde -- in fact, a mainstream sensibility can often be heard in the band's melodicism, occasionally breezy tone, and bubbling rhythms. This band aims to please, and succeeds probably 90 percent of the time on its Moonjune debut, Hubris. What truly sets the Naples, Italy-based septet apart from the pack of world fusion jazzers -- and makes the group particularly adventurous and exciting -- is that Slivovitz choose to pick and combine such varied influences in the first place, while maintaining coherence and avoiding pastiche. Consider album highlight "Dammi un Besh O," with its driving Balkan jazz-rock reminiscent of Brad Shepik & the Commuters shifting back and forth with a lighter Latin jazz-tinged section leavened by Marcello Giannini's acoustic guitar arpeggios. "Dammi un Besh O" showcases able soloing from Riccardo Villari on violin and saxophonist Pietro Santangelo, not to mention the expressive wordless vocalizing of Ludovica Manzo, but then Giannini leads the band into darker, off-minor harmonic territory, the rhythm section of drummer/percussionist Stefano Costanzo and electric bassist Dominico Angarano lock in tight under a punchy repeated riff accented by Manzo's clipped phrasing, and the track really explodes. The true fireworks arrive thanks to secret weapon Derek di Perri on harmonica, who burns and wails in the post-Little Walter blues-rock mode of Magic Dick or John Popper and incinerates everything in his path. In just over six minutes, Slivovitz have seemingly drawn from musical elements of three continents, and it all sounds completely natural and unforced.

Such mixage is far from limited to "Dammi un Besh O," and in fact starts with opening track "Zorn a Surriento" (clearly a play on "Torna a Surriento"), a bit of Neapolitan Masada with Santangelo assertive on alto but avoiding the squealiest Zornisms -- and here one of the most notable stylistic curve balls is Angarano's fluid, singing electric bass, a sound squarely in post-Pastorius mode. "Caldo Bagno" builds on an Afro-beat foundation with tribal rhythms and percolating percussion, but the music is lifted by Manzo's lovely voice, an instrument as important as any to Slivovitz's sonic palette throughout the album, as she doubles or harmonizes -- always wordlessly -- with the other musicians' melody lines. "Mangiare" slinks through an improvisational section that maintains the tune's grounding in pure bass-popping funk, while "Errore di Parallasse" features Flora Purim/Airto Moreira stylings and a violin solo hot as anything from the fusion era. And on the album-closing "Sig. M Rapito del Vento," perhaps in homage to Moonjune's Canterbury leanings, one senses an instrumental Caravan feel, including Santangelo conjuring up some of underappreciated saxophonist Jimmy Hastings' flavor. Those who fancy themselves firmly ensconced on the cutting edge (ouch!) might find some of the Brazilian jazz flirtations and Metheny-esque passages (we're not talking Song X here) a tad lightweight, and one might also wish that the band had pulled its stylistic net in a bit closer to the boat on at least one track: "Sono Tranquillo Eppure Spesso Strillo" -- an exercise in shout-along James Brown funk -- might be a fun high-energy number to close a live show with, but on this album breaks up the flow and falls into the record's unsuccessful ten percent. It's a misfire, but can be easily programmed out and still leave about an hour's worth of good -- often great -- music. So, if you're itching to hear the sound of Purim, Zorn, Popper, Hermeto Pascoal, Ali Farka Touré, Ivo Papasov, and Caravan playing together -- and making it work -- here's your album.

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