ITALY SETOLA DI MAIALE SM2450 CD (2013)
At the risk of making myself unpopular, I’m going to posit an old chestnut: classically trained musicians trying to “do” experimental music? Do they always have the tools necessary for the job? Are the tools they think they need the right ones? Now that it is suddenly okay to mention John Cage’s name in classical circles, should you? Is raw ability, great technique and a big dollop of ego enough? Discuss.
FUWAH is essentially a competent yet unremarkable double bass and vocal duo, Maddalena Ghezzi & Luca Pissavini. I’m all in favour of new combinations of divergent and contradictory genres and styles. Techno Doom Metal Cocktail Jazz is one I’d certainly love to hear. Embedded styles should be exploded. That is not to say even the cocktail jazz genre can’t be exploded. Here and there, this is what FUWAH appear to be trying to do, which in itself is commendable. Luca Pissavini plays it straight throughout. There’s no real experimentation, extended technique, pyrotechnics or attempt to break new ground. Simply a worrisome looseness and careless reference to established tropes. It made me think back to the UK’s experimental drone music explosion of ten or so years ago. I’m not saying that was all bad but I am saying there was a lot of it. And there’s a lot of improvising musicians about these days. A lot of very good ones. If you happen to be a fan of Dominic Lash or Klaus Janek or Guillaume Viltard’s playing (to name but three top-flight improvising double-bassists), beware – there’s not much to surprise or even entertain you here. For her part, Maddalena Ghezzi makes a lot of babbling vocalese noises seemingly just for the hell of it; I’m sorry, but for me this is not even as cutting edge as Cleo Laine going “boobedy-boodedy-boo” on BBC Pebble Mill At One in 1976. A more successful strategy might be to try to make the human voice sound unlike the human voice, as diverse proponents such as Diamanda Galas, Phil Minton and Jaap Blonk attest.
Track one, “Facets”, features alarming use of the minor pentatonic scale, or “The Blues Scale”, famous from a million hirsute teenagers in every guitar shop near you the world over. Not a great start for me. Hardly cutting edge. The only musicians I’m aware of who have used the “The Blues Scale” in new and interesting ways recently are Bill Orcutt or Tetuzi Akiyama and he has to risk RSI in his strumming arm to do it. This album, or rather Ghezzi in particular, is blessed/cursed with a rich seam of unmodulated vocal with the saccharine timbre of a singer in the afore-mentioned cocktail jazz style. Although she is not afraid of trying out new forms. Bizarrely, the third track, “Crono”, features what sounds like an ill-advised attempt at Tuvan throat singing. On “Sopravvissuto”, Ghezzi sounds more sinister – read also: interesting – briefly, reminding me vaguely of Madame P or PJ Harvey at her most dark and experimental. Disappointingly, “Malachia”, the fifth track, sounds like a nursery full of toddlers let loose in the music room at South London’s Hornimann Museum. My four year-old has made better recordings than this at home by himself. Seriously. But then, I am biased in his favour. Track seven, “Traveller”, attempts some word association in English with limited success.
I hate to be dismissive, but I’m being honest – I struggled with this disc overall. Although this disc may find favour with those with little experience of improvised music or those with cloth ears, or if you like your avant garde jazz with less emphasis on the “avant”, this might be for you. Everyone loves a chocolate digestive but this is more of a stale custard cream from under the sofa if you’re asking me.