For those who think that authentic, urban-informed jazz is the unique purview of North American musicians, one need only look to Stones
. Emerging from the ashes of the more electronica-centric Italian group DMA, the equally all-Italian Alfabeats Nu Jazz makes music that sounds like it could be coming from the streets of any large American cityor does it?
The Alfabeats member who will be best known to American audiences is Roberto Magris, whose mainstream Europlane group released the critically well-received Il Bello Del Jazz (Soul Note, 2006). Here the talented pianist is found just as often on electric piano and organ as the acoustic variety. While Alfabeats is an electric bandnot just literally, in that bassist Paolo Andriolo and guitarist Luca Boscagin play the plugged-in versions of their instruments, but also in the sense that this group is chargedthis is no electronica outfit that utilizes the samplers and turntables some jazz fans find anathematic and very arguably un-jazzy.
First and foremost, Alfabeats is a playing band, albeit one with a language that extends far beyond the conventional definition of jazz to include elements of soul, R&B, funk... even hints of progressive rock and classic '70s Brit-rock. Regardless of how the group amalgamates a seemingly disparate group of influences, groove is priority number one. Whether it's the hip-hop-centric rhythm of "Syeeda's Flute in Wonderland, with its reference to John Coltrane, the more balladic funk of the title track, or the rocking "Islamic Spires, this is music that's sure to move the body without sacrificing any appeal for the mind.
Outside of a couple of passages where he delivers his message in Italian, one would be hard-pressed to hear any trace of an accent from rap vocalist Max "Mbassado Marzio. Not that there would be anything wrong with that, but combined with the rest of the group's overall sound, it lays total waste to any claims of stylistic propriety. Far from the vapid (or sometimes downright offensive) lyrics of so much rap music, Marzio delivers poetry with a purpose, as on the cautionary tale "Red Cap & The Bad Loop.
The group never overstays its welcome, but Magris and Boscagin deliver strong solos throughout, buoyed by Andriolo and drummer Paolo Prizzon's visceral grooves. The language never gets too complicated, but it's clear, even on the straightforward "Floppy Generation Blues, that everyonenot just Magrispossesses a rich vernacular.
Stones is an exciting debut that will no doubt appeal to a younger demographic. But it's just as certain to attract more seasoned jazzers who don't have a knee-jerk reaction against rap or the idea of straying away from convention.