Paganini Experience is the first full length recording from, as the name implies, the rebooted version of the 70s classically infused prog rock trio LatteMiele from Genoa. Featuring 2 members from the 70s on this recording, Massimo Gori takes up arms on bass and vocals and Luciano Poltini is all things keyboard. Joining the group are Marco Biggi on drums, and justifying the 2.0 tag, Elena Aiello makes the band of milk and honey a four-piece on violin.
So no pressure there, then given that this album tilts its not-inconsiderable hat towards a showman who originally made violin virtuosity a virtue in its own right. Before Niccolo Paganini a musician earned a living by ensuring that their compositions could be played by musicians of average ability, thus ensuring that they would be heard by a wide audience to buy the scores for their own entertainments. It was Paganini who ripped up that particular rule book and showed that a bit of flashy technique will never go amiss. I appreciate that there are those who don't like the idea of liberties being taken with the classics. We are after all still within living (well my) memory of an age when Benny Goodman could get banned from the airwaves for playing his Bach with a swing. However, those readily offended can relax. This album, to my knowledge anyway, makes only passing reference to Paganini's music (that riff from Andrew Lloyd Webber familiar to British viewers of The South Bank Show), capturing his life and spirit in more original manner.
If Inno sets out as a fairly standard, if pleasant loosener, establishing Elena Aiello's violin front and centre from the first bars and affording Poltini the opportunity for some Keith Emerson kind of keyboard work, the album really starts to develop fully from Via Del Colle. This theatrical, melodramatic piece is beautifully sung by Massimo Gori, the simple repeating melody evoking Paganini's relatively humble Genoese upbringing, learning mandolin like his father, before his prodigious talent for the violin becomes apparent. In L'Ora Delle Tenebre the electric starts to spark from Aiello's bow; an emotionally charged vocal, born of despair gives way to a cascade of keys which metamorphoses into a joyous finale. Latte Miele expertly probe the space where classical formalism breaks apart, juxtaposing icy, crystal elegance with fiery emotional pyrotechnics. Surprisingly, given the subject, they are rarely flashy for the sake of it, a blessing in my book and Porto Di Note is a perfect example of controlled playing, electric guitar and violin parts perfectly complementing the vocal. Charlotte hints at the scandalous interludes accompanying Paganini's tours, although the sensitive violin-led treatment hints at a more sensitive and generous attitude than Miss Watson was afforded by the sheets of the time.
The cover of Jimi Hendrix' Angel is a delicious stand out delight. The almost stiffly martial introduction cleverly masks the break into the familiar melody and a more relaxed vocal style. It contrasts with the rest of the album without jarring, appropriately capturing a modern virtuoso whose quick-burning flame and electric presence provided a counterpart to the original musical showman. The band sounds joyous, the violin soars and the mood is exhilarating, like unexpected sunbeams bouncing off a troubled sea.
This is a lovingly crafted homage to a local Genoese hero, and one that deserves a wide audience. The decision to relaunch Latte Miele in this new form has provided an injection of creative and musical energy which is to be applauded. This new line up offers exciting dynamics and possibilities and hopefully we shall be hearing more in the future. Another feather in the cap for an already impressive body of musicians from Northern Italy.
**** Andrew Cottrell
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