On 2011’s Kublai, Accordo dei Contrari avoid a minor pitfall of their 2007 debut, Kinesis: peaking too early in the track listing. The jazz-rock quartet kicked off Kinesis with its finest track, “Lester,” and although the album maintained high quality throughout, it still presented a slight letdown overall after such a stellar beginning. While the opening numbers on sophomore outing Kublai aren’t as strong as those of the debut, the listener’s patience is ultimately rewarded. First track “G.B. Evidence” does demand attention -- in fact, it is one of the band’s most slammin’ numbers ever, with a stop-and-start intro and conclusion, odd-metered grooves, and a squiggly unison guitar and synth line with weirdly placed pitch bending that makes one wonder how they thought of it, much less played it. However, the tune’s midsection includes rather undistinguished call-and-response licks between Marco Marzo on guitar and Giovanni Parmeggiani on organ, and the “big finish” climax feels like a blues-rock cliché. The follow-up, “Arabesque,” is indeed an Arabic-flavored outing beginning with Marzo on oud over Parmeggiani’s synth drone; Marzo switches to guitar and the piece moves through various Middle Eastern motifs. There are interesting moments here -- particularly when some disorienting Hatfield and the North-style electric piano interjects a Canterbury flavor -- but at 12 and a half minutes, the piece feels overlong. Third track “Dark Magus” (seemingly not related to Miles) sounds close to something from Kinesis, as guitar and keyboards flow across an oddly accented 9/8 rhythm laid down by bassist Daniele Piccinini and drummer Cristian Franchi -- there is plenty to engage the listener throughout the twists and turns of this piece, despite the brief appearance of more somewhat routine call-and-response licks between Marzo and Parmeggiani rescued by the skewed underlying rhythm.
And then “L’Ombra di un Sogno” (The Shadow of a Dream) arrives: it’s a vocal track featuring the album's only guest musician, Richard Sinclair of Caravan and the aforementioned Hatfields, and it’s a stunner. Over a Hatfield-esque backing (particularly Parmeggiani’s Dave Stewart-like electric piano), Sinclair sings about his departed dog (“Journeys paradise gone/Up amongst those stars/In dreams, I’ll be seeing you/Dear friend and dog, I won’t forget/Good dog”) while avoiding pathos, and midway through the song, a guitar/keyboard ostinato accelerates the tempo into a high-spirited romp that leaps and doubles back on itself in a joyous circle, with Sinclair’s inimitable wordless vocal doubling the guitar and keys’ melodic line. As Sinclair expresses the joy of time spent together rather than the sadness brought by his friend and companion's loss, he delivers one of his finest recorded vocal performances in decades. The album’s final two tracks are strong as well, particularly the closing “Battery Park” as Parmeggiani reveals his jazziest side on acoustic piano, but with “L’Ombra di un Sogno,” Kublai already achieved its “Lester.”