Drummer/clarinetist/keyboardist Andrea Marcelli records so infrequently that it's difficult to know where he will be stylistically at any given time. But, unquestionably, expectations for his new record, Beyond the Blue were that it would be another disc in the fusion vein of his first two releases, Silent Will ('90) and Oneness ('95). These first two records are notable for their remarkable lineupsartists including Wayne Shorter, Allan Holdsworth, Mike Stern, Mike Manieri, Gary Willis and others were involved to varying degrees, giving the releases both a sense of credibility for people naturally unfamiliar with Marcelli's name and some idea what to expect musically.
But while his first two records were clearly fusion in nature, they did demonstrate more diverse musical concerns. Now with Beyond the Blue he pares things down, going for purer approach and a broader reach. Mike Stern may, again, be involved, but the context is definitely not fusion. With a rhythm section that includes pianist Mitchel Forman and Eddie Gomez, along with saxophonist Bob Mintzer, the direction is decidedly acoustic. The harmonies and melodies reflect the romanticism, lyricism and impressionism of Marcelli's European background (though he is now a naturalized U.S. citizen) rather than the more aggressive stance of his earlier recordings.
Still, there's no question that Marcelli can swing when he needs to, as he does on "Between the Poles," an harmonically ambiguous composition that is propelled by Gomez and Marcelli's interplayall the more remarkable for this being a session that was recorded in a single day. The title track demonstrates how far Marcelli has come as a player since his last recording; with a looser, more elastic time sense, he often provides a clear pulse more by implication than overt rhythm.
Demonstrating Marcelli's interest in Brazilian music, the gentle bossa "Summer Nights" features Forman's Evans-inflected playing, as does the more impressionistic ECM ambience of "Herbst (Autumn)." While there is a world of difference between Stern and John Abercrombie, "Orange Green" bears some lineage to Abercrombie's early-'80s quartet. "The Meaning of the Family" may resolve into a lightly funky affair rhythmically for Stern's solo space but ultimately demonstrates Marcelli's more evocative long-form sense of composition.
In fact, while Marcelli's compositions bear little resemblance to the work of Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays stylistically, there is a similarity in the travelogue-like nature of his writing. The title track may be a mere six minutes long, but it navigates from melancholic suggestion to light swing to deeper intensity and sheer power. Marcelli's compositions transcend simple melody, transporting the listener to places known and unknown, eliciting hidden emotions.
Beyond the Blue represents something of a quantum leap for Marcelli as a player, but more notably as a writer. There's a maturity of concept, a clarity of vision, that makes Beyond the Blue something of a watershed for Marcelli, encouraging the hope that another nine years won't have to pass before he records again.
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