At the very moment I was waxing poetic last year over Italian whack jazz trio Neo's last album Water Resistance, the band was in a studio in Chicago recording their next album. Neoclassico, as it became known as, was finally released stateside last month on Cuneiform's Wayside imprint, and it's been a album well worth the wait.
Their brand of off-the-cliff jazz is the kind that always puts a smile on my face because they navigate through impossible progressions in perfect sync and with a crisp, bouncy spring in their step. To be sure, Neo draws from disparate influences like punk rock, math rock, John Zorn and Ornette Coleman (think I've said that before last year, but it bears repeating), but ultimately, they reside in a space all their own. Manlio Maresca (electric guitar), Carlo Conti (tenor sax), and Antonio Zitarelli (drums) make a very tight unit, if nothing else because the music they choose to play demands it. Playing highly composed music in a freewheeling manner, Neo often gets lumped into jazz, because there's just no other place to put them. But clearly, the chops and the improvisational spirit is up the jazz standards.
Jazz, perhaps, but with an alt-rock attitude. As if to emphasize that point, the boys even enlisted big-time alt-rock producer Steve Albini (Pixies, Nirvana, The Jesus Lizard, Manic Street Preachers) to engineer and mix this record. Neo produced it, along with manager Davide Cardea and Chiara Cardea. Albini's presence does more than just bring in a recognizable American name to hang their hat on; there's a noticeable step up in terms of the sound clarity over Water Resistance, which makes it easier to pick up on all the little licks, interactions and fills that they spray underneath the twisted melodies of their songs.
As before, Neo's songs are fairly short but need not run any longer because they're vivid and intense. Bursting with tightly woven creative shards, there weren't any wasted moments on Neo's songs before, and there aren't any now, either. Il Dente Del Pregiudizio" (YouTube below) announces their precise, pinball song construction, playing riffs that are anything but simple, but always purposeful. Good Morning" is another impossibly knotty tune with rhythms seemingly invented just for the occasion of this song.
They're a band with a sly wit about them, too, evident in the seemingly mis-titled Blues" until the cacophony halts and Conti's soulful sax Maresca's weepy slide emerges. It's a tribute to the town that hosted their recording sessions in a way that only Neo can do. The classico" part of the neoclassico" seems to refer to the Invenzione" interludes dispersed throughout the album. These are derived from J.S. Bach's Inventions In Two Parts For Piano." That seems a far cry from the kind of music Neo usually performs, but you can draw a line from the intricately compiled compositions of Bach and Neo's own detailed originals.
Which goes to show what Renaissance men the guys in Neo are. Then again, what else would you expect from a band that's from where the Renaissance originated?