CD Review – Paolo Angeli – Jar’a

Once in a while, it’s quite cheering to come across an album that is very difficult, if not impossible, to accurately categorise. This release is very much in that vein.

Paolo Angeli appears to be quite a musical character. He began playing the guitar when he was nine, and progressed to taking a degree in Ethnomusicology, managing to evolve a highly customised version of the Sardinian prepared-guitar – an eighteen-string orchestra of guitar, baritone, cello and drums rolled into one, with various hammers, pedals and varispeed propellers added – along the way. This has led Paolo into a unique area that is best described as being part Sardinian folk music (he was born in Olbia, Sardinia in 1970), part flamenco, along with tastes of jazz, post-rock, and generally experimental music. It is quite an unusual blend that allows Paolo an extremely broad palette. He has performed around the world and has collaborated with a string of interesting musicians along the way, including Fred Frith, Pat Metheny, Evan Parker and many others.

The album itself is as diverse as this description suggests. It comprises of a single suite in six movements that contains a variety of textures. You might consider that the music is developing a little like Steve Hackett’s interpretations of his Mediterranean explorations, until the music shifts to something much more threatening and urgent. The post-rock element creates an atmosphere not unlike the soundtrack to some imagined dystopian arthouse film, familiar but unsettling. The music contains no overdubbing or loops, and could be considered pure in that sense. For the most part, Paolo is the only performer but he is joined by vocalist Omar Bandinu, a Sardinian throat singer. The resulting music is very idiosyncratic, cinematic, evoking open spaces and the interplay of the modern and the traditional. The suite combines avant-garde and ancient traditional singing rituals, a striking evocation of merging underground worlds and the most ancestral Sardinia. Jar’a is, in this sense, a concept album, with three-dimensional sound, in which Paolo expresses an innovative contemporary language, imbuing it with fragile, emotive vocals.  

One of the things that strikes the listener, besides the atmosphere and structure of the music itself, is the thought that a single musician can singularly create a sound as grand and intricate as any post-rock band within a single instrument without employing the technology of loops, or the recording staple of overdubbing. Not that there is anything wrong with those techniques in themselves. But there is something impressive for the audient in knowing a musician is in full flow.

This is a very entertaining listen then, full of surprises and richly redolent of exotic places. Although the music is quite experimental it retains a good degree of melody, evoking history-soaked skies of the Mediterranean. It never lapses in to the tedium that sometimes mars experimental art. It is an album to spend time with, to listen to its nuances, shades and intricacies. This is an album to immerse yourself in to appreciate.

Jar’a (suite in 6 movements)

I Ea 1.44

II Jar’a 18.35

III Futti ‘entu 3.24

IV Sùlu 12.13

V Lanci 4.06

VI Groppo 2.41

Paolo Angeli – prepared Sardinian guitar, vocals, electronics

Special Guest – Omar Bandinu – (Tenores di Bitti ‘Mialinu Pira’) bassu (Cantu a Tenore Sardinian throat singing)

Label: AnMa ReR Megacorp

Release Date: April 22nd, 2021


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