Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Play it Again: Adrian Raso & Fanfare Ciocarlia's Devil's Tale

Adrian Raso isn't exactly a household name when it comes to the Canadian music scene. Raso was born in Guelph, Ontario. At a young age, he started playing guitar beginning with rock music, but with a keen ear for Mediterranean musical forms. By 2005, he formed his own instrumental trio that drew crowds at home and abroad. Raso and his band were very successful in Italy gaining recognition for their musical skills and spirited music. His latest CD, Devil's Tale (Asphalt Tango), features the guitarist with a band called Fanfare Ciocarlia from Romania. The 12-piece brass band features trumpets, tubas and percussion in a lively, spirited mix that is fresh and optimistic. It's an album of original compositions by Raso that is immediately accessible and eclectic right from the first note.

The disc opens with the up tempo and earthy track called, "Urn St. Tavern," which evokes pictures of patrons having a good time. The spirited “Swing Sagarese” has a distinctively Italian feel for its tarantella rhythm and clipped musical phrases. That track is followed by the quizzical tune called "The Absinthe-Minded Gypsy." It's an enjoyable character study featuring tuba players Pinca Cantea and Gutzel Trifan. It's a well-crafted song that features Raso on banjo in a bright and clever solo. "Quatro Cicci" has a strong Mexican feel to it, a la the Tijuana Brass, but its catchy phrases are also clever hooks. It runs 2:40 and showcases the band, but more importantly it also demonstrates Raso's flamenco technique. It's a great tune. At the beginning of "Charlatan's Waltz," Raso instructs his band to "play like Charlatans" and they quickly comply. This track features the rhythm section plus accordion, handclaps and Raso's multi-track guitar. It's a nice complement to the larger ensemble.The title track is the perfect hybrid mix of surf punk, Tex-Mex and Balkan dance music. Its bright refrain is the perfect antidote to a cold winter's day.

Adrian Raso (Photo by Dave Carter)
But Devil's Tale isn't all up-tempo gypsy swing. The band really bears down on the Louisiana-swamp sound of "Leezard's Lament." It's another fine instrumental with Raso playing banjo while sirens, voices and a particularly inspired Jew's harp is played by Michael Metzler. But just as that one ends, "Cafe Con Leche" offers up a deluxe tango. The whole band opens up on this song because there's lots of room for improvisation. "Spritissimo" is a more conventional, big band gypsy number, with fast runs by Raso and Daniel Ivancea's alto saxophone. It's another fine example of music that is spirited and not too showy. These guys have excellent "chops" as we like to say, technique that can be ridiculously fast. But on this album economy is the order of the day, so each song could be considered restrained.

The album closes with the gentile "Bireli's Waltz" which is a welcome contrast to what came before it. But track 12 is an up-tempo encore called "Django,"inspired by the musical spirit of Django Reinhardt. It incorporates some Peer Gynt music into the mix and ends quickly. My first response? Press play again!
Devil's Tale was released January 17th, worldwide. An animated video of "Urn St. Tavern" was released on YouTube.

John Corcelli is a music critic, broadcast/producer, musician and member of the Festival Wind Orchestra.

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