L' Arpa e L'Asino (The Harp and the Donkey)

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The only widely available album from Italy's loose avant-street fanfare ensemble N.O.R.M.A., L'Arpe e l'Asino (The Harp and the Donkey) collects diverse and disparate works. The piece that justifies this release is Erik Satie's wild Cinéma: Entr'acte Symphonique de Relâche. Tiziano Popoli and Massimo Simonini have arranged the piece for the seven-piece group augmented by drummer Chris Cutler. Their rendition would make Satie proud: wild, burlesque, and irreverent, it throws in references to all musical styles. Satie's microscopic writing (67 sections in 23 minutes) provides a springboard for cut-and-paste-style blending. One thinks of John Zorn or Jean Derome and René Lussier's large-ensemble projects from the late '80s and early '90s (Confitures de Gagaku, Le Corps de l'Ouvrage, even Je Me Souviens) -- plus, guitarist Giorgio Casadei's twangy sound gets very close to Lussier's. The remainder of the disc is split into two sections. "Teatro" (16 minutes) culls music by Popoli and Simonini for two theater productions. Much quieter and sparser, the music here serves as a disconcerting anticlimax, completely counterproductive even though it does have its moments. The last portion of the album (ten minutes) presents four short improvisations by N.O.R.M.A., recorded between 1993 and 1996. Two tracks feature guest vocalist Phil Minton, another trumpeter Riccardo Pittau. They make a suitable conclusion but are no match for the organized craziness that took place earlier.

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