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World Music CD Reviews Europe

BANDA IONICA

By Michael Stone
Published February 17, 2006

Matri Mia
Felmay/Dunya

TRE MARTELLI
Semper Viv
Felmay/Dunya

World music's best-kept secrets, alas, include the Italian roots revival, whose seminal bands include Tre Martelli, formed in 1976. The group researches and recreates the folk traditions of the southern Piemonte, played on a stunning array of accordion, hurdy-gurdy, harmonium, musette (bagpipe), ocarina, recorder, clarinet, brass, guitar, mandolins, dulcimer, violin, cello, bass, piano, drums and percussion, all embellishing the region's evocative vocal harmonies. Marking their 25th anniversary, Semper Viv anthologizes the best of Tre Martelli's five out-of-print albums between 1977 and 2000, in a sprawling traditional repertoire including ballads, mazurkas, polkas, schottisches, waltzes and drinking songs. This engagingly diverse collection is an unequaled ethnomusicological testimonial to the wealth of Italian folk tradition. If Verdi, Puccini and Donizetti were to collaborate with Fellini, Tom Waits and Manu Chao, the vivid result would approximate Banda Ionica's inspired retrofitting of Sicilian marching band music. Building on the strength of Passione, its 1999 cult success, Matri Mia unfurls a brassy, percussive paean to extraordinary women. In mid-2002, Matri Mia was on the European world music top 10 radio charts, reflecting its iconographic obsession and Latin-tinged multilingual repertoire (sung in Italian, Spanish, French and German). Check out Spanish singer El Mono Loco's gravely, dissolute "Espinita," or Cristina Zavalloni's Brechtian, coquettish, operatic interpretation of the Sicilian "Votu e Mi Rivotu." Italian in truth or spirit? Start with these.