Joseph Baldassare

Living Theater, Vol. 1

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Buddha Bar, the upscale Paris bar/club, has received a brand name with its own compilations and is now branching out. This is as stylish as anything else released under the moniker. But the problem is that you need some style under the substance, and this is sadly lacking. Producer/writer/musician Joseph Baldassare bills this as "modern music from the Mediterranean and beyond," but with the exception of the flying oud on World United's "Sign of the Dove," you'd be hard-pressed to pick any specific country -- or region, for that matter -- in the material. Yes, there's a vague world music feel to it all, but it's all gloss. Bert Joris' trumpet on "Adam & Evenings" brings the earlier muted work of Mark Isham to mind, while other tracks have echoes of Madonna's electronica, and Medea (who are all these unfamiliar names, anyway?) attempts to clumsily meld classical and chill-out grooves on "Dove Vai." "What Is This?" from Kyoko harks back to early Kate Bush; in other words, Baldassare is all over the shop in his writing and arrangements, with his vision -- assuming there is one -- completely diffuse. The production is very clean and crystal-clear, but that only adds to the rather clinical feeling of distance, as if this should come free with an expensive interior design catalog. Even the record's sole cover, a version of "My Funny Valentine" sung by P. Melas, seems less about the love than the self. Doubtless it'll find a home in trendy restaurants and boutiques, where something unintrusive with elements of the unusual and exotic would be in demand. But for regular listening pleasure, this just doesn't cut it.

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