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Il Sogno de Marinaio - La Busta Gialla

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Artist: Il Sogno de Marinaio

Album: La Busta Gialla

Label: Clenched Wrench

Review date: Feb. 28, 2013

There’s no denying that Mike Watt fights the good fight. As one third of Minutemen, he gave a generation of punks permission to open doors, not close them; via associations with the Asheton brothers and J. Mascis, he helped keep the Stooges’ sound alive until even Iggy figured he had to do something with it; and he’s advocated for public access to the airwaves with his own radio show. But good intentions aren’t enough; he’s also been involved with plenty of music that says a lot, at great length, without saying anything you need to hear twice. So while it was definitely interest-piquing to hear that he had assembled a trio with Italian musicians Stefano Pilia and Andrea Belfi, whose collective CV encompasses membership in 3/4havebeeneliminated, sideman gigs with Rokia Traore, and sound installations inspired by skateboarding, a listenable result was by no means guaranteed; it all depended on what they chose to include and what they choose to leave out.

In this respect, Pilia and Belfi looked like good influences from the outset. That’s the role they performed on Onrushing Cloud, a collaboration with David Grubbs that brought him back to the avant/pop mix he explored with Gastr Del Sol. The intention going into this project was to not overthink things, but to let the material arise from the mix of three personalities and evolve over the course of a six-gig tour of Italy.

In concert, Il Sogno de Marinaio wore John Coltrane buttons and played tunes selected from throughout Watt’s career. The group’s name, which translates as The Sailor’s Dream, is a typically Watt-ian autobiographical construction that refers to his mother’s Italian ancestry and his father’s nautical profession. You can hear bits of Watt’s history in the music, as well. With its quick-shifting, catchy bass melody and bright guitar harmonics, “Funanori Jig” sounds like the backing track for a fIREHOSE tune, at least until the steel drums come in. But more often, the music seems like the product of a genuinely collaborative process in which Watt met his mates as an equal, and they in turn kept their more outside interests in check.

Opener “Zoom” introduces a recurrent ’70s nerd-prog influence, with a Belfi-sung wordless melody that bridges Robert Wyatt’s scatting and the tricky tunes Frank Zappa penned for Hot Rats. But thanks to Pilia’s favoring of effects over notes, the music never chokes on indulgence. “Joyfuzz” occupies similar territory, with Belfi’s unfussy piano balancing out a busy, singsong vocal line (Belfi’s again). Watt only airs his tonsils once, on “The Tiger Princess,” an alliterative recitation over a backing track that sounds like a streamlined, rocked-up extension of pre-Millions Now Living Will Never Die Tortoise. His bass is often the strongest melodic voice, but it’s still sufficiently reined in to maintain a balance with the atmospheric guitar and dynamic, spacious drumming.

La Busta Gialla (which translates as The Yellow Coat; apparently Watt wore one throughout the tour, which made him easy to find in crowds) is more engaging than Watt’s recent resurrection of the bass duo Dos, less wordy than his solo records, and more fluid than the Frankensteinian Floored By Four, his collaboration with Nels Cline, Dougie Bowne, and Yuka Honda. But is better enough? While it’s beyond decent, I have a hunch that when I feel like hearing some Watt, I’m still going to reach first for a Minutemen record. That said, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that every now and then, I’ll want to hear some Il Sogno de Marinaio, too.

By Bill Meyer

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