Marcello Cassanelli - Sunset Tapes (Jackie Brown, 2020)
The art form of pairing jazz fusion with dance music tendencies is very much alive and well on this excellent new release from the Italian keys master.
To embrace a spectrum in not just an album but a single tune is pretty damn impressive. And this praise is usually heaped on those who conceive albums very much inspired from the realms of jazz, jazz fusion and the like. Jazz, in many ways, has fed into dance music significantly since its inception in the early 20th century, with its dynamic and expressive style echoing through the ages, but perhaps more importantly is its inherent ability to twist and turn with delight and surprise, along with its emphasis on the free flowing nature of instrumentation. Through the ages, jazz has never truly disappeared from the visions of aspiring musicians, and those who look to embed its flavours into their music have usually, when applied correctly and with acknowledgement of technique and application, crafted something particularly special indeed. When discussing this level of understanding, it helps to have both the technical application to pull off such a pairing of jazz and something else, but also the vision in which to pull it off. Those who conceive albums now, particularly within the realms of house music, almost look to incorporate jazzy notions with an almost superficial feel, and it can come across a little bit bland in the process. Like with the acid and trance revivals that are on the upward trend right now, its not enough to simply place a solitary element within your music for the purposes of consumption of music, what matters more is the inherent ability, understanding and acknowledgement of the kind of music that inspires you. In turn, those musicians and producers who live and breathe the music of the past are the ones who craft records that actually mean something, creating windows into the past that allow us to connect more with the music that came before, but also meaning we can connect to the music in which that artist is looking to interpret and craft into their own vision. This way, the narrative keeps going forward in a way in which people who come across albums for the first time, there is an immediate compulsion to look back and join the dots in relation to how and why the music you're listening to was conceived in the first place. Jazz is such an important genre to contemporary music, its significance not just the music found within but the artistry of the musicians behind it. To listen to people today who display this kind of artistry to their music is a wonderful thing, and very much keeps the art of jazz alive, through its new and varied forms.
Marcello Cassanelli is very much one of those artists who studies the many forms of jazz and jazz tinged music, and conceives something that moves right up there in relation to mood and technique. An allumni of the music school G.B. Martini Conservatory, where he studied a Jazz music, the stage was set for Cassanelli to flex his creative muscles in releasing jazz infused records of the highest order, with his praised key work becoming a signature feature of his small but very exciting discography. Cassanelli touches on many cornerstones of the jazz genre with his music, with a particular eye for threading together the many incarnations and sub genres that popped up over the years, but always infusing his own little twist on proceedings. This is where the bridges begin to be built between the past and the present, as the dominant feature of Cassanelli's music is the dedication to the genre and all its rhythmic and melodic beauty. His music reads like a celebration of all who came before, with tracks swinging between varying moods and tones with ease and the highest form of musicality going, which only makes listening to his music more impressive and throughly enjoyable. His debut record, 'Overtour' was released in 2018, and is a breathtaking groove right through the pulse of jazz music, with its energies and rhythms pulsating with all the enriching feels of the genre. It was very much a contemporary jazz record, one which was praised for its dynamic flow through all manner of atmospheres, not willing to stay within one aspect but to touch on and incorporate the elements for which jazz is much celebrated. His love and passion for it all shine through in this regard, and we are all for it!
In light of his 2018 release, a follow up record was highly anticipated, and it couldn't do more to further engagement with Cassanelli's music. Where his debut demonstrated his skills at composing some more traditionally aligned jazz music, his new record, 'Sunset Tapes', sees Cassaneli descend more into the realms of jazz fusion and house inspired rhythms, and the combination couldn't be pulled off with more flair and skill. The album seems very much rooted in the present day, with the sleek production value matched by the assortment of silky keys and deep rhythmic chords coming together over a bed of razor sharp beats to craft a vibe that is unlike nothing you will hear from these realms this year. The record comes fresh out of the Jackie Brown label, which has churned out some superb house jazz records over the years, so it seems the perfect fit for Cassaneli to conjure up this kind of synth led housey jazzy goodness on the label. With bassist Blake C.S. Franchetto and drummer Antonio M. Rapa in tow, lets get into how this record looks to build on his previous works - so without further ado, lets dive in!
Up first comes 'Brooklyn', and we begin with the rhythmic tidings of the rising synth progression to lead us into it. This line is quickly joined by a beautiful arrangement of keys that reside underneath and on top, to craft a build up that descends initially into a spacious break, before descending back into full on melodic overload. When we say overload, its perfection, with the layering of synths combining superbly onto of the ever evolving beat structure, keeping us on our toes continually as each bar passes by. The textures and tonal arrangements of the keys is what really shines here, along with the swings between crescendos that occur with the drums and keys, rising high and low, contracting and expanding with so much energy. The break down leads into a choppy drum beat, with the keys allowed to breath in individual lines for a moment, before grooving right into that main riff, that flows along with all the happiness and joy you could imagine. Up next comes 'Chilly', and the tempo comes down just a tad for this one. The opening salvo is one of blissed out grooves, with tender keys climbing down from up high over loose yet precise beats that carry the pulse brilliantly, with the overall picture one of sombre reflection and delicacy. The track evolves ever so slightly in time, with the drumming becoming just a bit more deeper, but its the introduction of the killer bass key line that adds that weighty feel through the middle of proceedings. This feel only grows through into the spacious break, where the keys largely drop out in order to give one of the lines as much space to do its thing, as the drums also take the time to fully express themselves. Before long, the bass line swings back into view, and the groove gets moving back to its fullest incarnation, its wide feel giving over so much, with the keys gradually sliding back into view with each passing moment. This sparks the moment in the track where the keys begin to really shine, moving through the scales and tempos with such confidence and ease, you really do feel transported by the sheer musicality of it all. 'Malo Pivo' follows next, and we arrive at yet another incarnation to persist on this record. The tempo moves into the realms of fast driving jazz grooves, one that persists greatly in the contemporary jazz scene, but here Cassaneli spins his own twist on the direction in which the tune seems destined to go in. The playful intro transitions into this beautifully soft part of the track, where chords float on top of the intensely driven beat, with the textural feels of both elements really shining through on both. Whilst you focus on these two prominent elements, the bass has been doing another thing entirely, its journey providing yet another facet of intrigue into a track that exudes passion and flair from every corner. The drums up the ante around the 3 minute mark, their double time feel injecting some more energy than ever before into a track where you step back a bit and just marvel at it all. Superb.
Up next comes 'Shark', which presents perhaps the most overtly obvious nod to house music yet. The drum beat is immediately four to the floor, with a immediate rhythm laid out in front of us, but the intricacies of the groove become apparent with continued listening. The jazzy chords then slide into the picture on top, that become paired with wonderful rising chords that add a compelling backdrop to the progressions. The large background keys move away, and we are greeted by a series of wicked chordal arrangements that delve into those dancing feet, their character overflowing with feels and vibes. The switch up that we didn't really see coming arrives around the 2:30 mark, and it is here where the song really pushes itself into moments of genius, with the melody hinting at a more emotional expanse but we are instead taken through a series of magical scenes that do much to highlight Cassaneli's talent and musical ideology. The fast paced moments between arrangements flow so intuitively between each other, the transitions executed flawlessly, and by this point we are truly immersed within this utterly gorgeous and compelling piece of music. To finish up, we have 'Welcome', which begins in understated circumstances, but Cassaneli isn't going to finish up this record in that way. Before you now it, the best groove of the record hits you right in the middle fo the head, immediately and categorically, and its just brilliant. The key work is as always on point here, but the drums also do a superb job at contrasting between the full groove segments and the breakdowns, as if to combine the best aspects of jazz fusion with elements of early mid 70s disco joints. Its a pairing that is pulled off with such gusto and swagger, a track that comes across with so much to say and saying it with all the love and care in the world. As enders to records go, jesus what an ender. What a record.
What Cassaneli achieved with this record, and the sound found on it, is nothing short of remarkable. In a nutshell, Cassaneli crafts a new side to his sound, one that draws much from his musical passions for jazz but injects it into a new set of boundaries, a new space that lives somewhere between jazz fusion and house music. A pairing that he really does a brilliant job of matching and exploring, and over 5 cuts manages to explore that dynamic with intrigue and passion, and that's not even mentioning just how good this guy is at playing the keyboard. Tonally and texturally excellent, groovy and out there rhythmically in each measure, the balance is just perfect. This is a record of serious intent, and the statement it makes speaks volumes of the man who made it all happen. A real triumph.
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