Marcello Napoletano: The Space Voodoo Album
Mathematics Recordings

Italian producer Marcello Napoletano makes a strong impression with this fabulous debut album on Jamal Moss's Mathematics Recordings. The double-vinyl package serves up vibrant variations on classic Chicago and Detroit house themes, and spices up Napoletano's funky tracks with natural (piano, horns, percussion) and electronic (synthesizers, drum machines) sounds. Rather than sounding too slick, the material feels loose, live, and funky, as if we're eavesdropping on a group of musicians meeting for a weekly improv session. The opening title cut, an occasionally cacophanous percolating broil of wordless vocal accents, jazzy piano runs, and clattering percussion, lives up to its trippy title, after which “The Calm Before the Storm” marries a lovely funk-bass pulse to a midtempo lope while creamy synthesizers squiggle alongside. “Mood Jane (Black Keys & White Dust Rmx)” bolsters a jubilant Latin-jazz skip with bright horn-like colourations and a swinging house groove, while “My Brother's Soul” works its future-house vibe into a gallop. Downplaying the acoustic dimension for the closer, the futuristic “Somewhere in the Galaxy” opts for a heavily synthetic sound in its hyperactive spin through a beatless realm.

Napoletano comes at his dance music with a strong jazz sensibility, with the music ultimately occupying a middle ground between acoustic jazz and electronic dance forms. Though it's merely one example of many, “Ottantotto” bridges those worlds by overlaying a bubbly electronic house groove with sprinkles of acoustic jazz piano playing. The serpentine “A Miles Man (Slowest Part 1)” likewise merges the two realms into one, in this case by augmenting synth chord stabs with interlocking patterns of vibes and cymbals (the unmistakable croak of Miles himself surfaces late in the track as a voiceover). In some cases, Napoletano adds crowd noise but it's hardly necessary when the tracks already feel so much like live takes. Every melodically rich and cut oozes a maximal, wide-screen vibe that has the potential to make other dance albums seem anemic and over-produced by comparison.

November 2009