01. When The Light Began
02. Mammoth R.C.
04. Sarah' Ngwega
05. Alef's Dance
- Walter Maioli / arabic oboe, bamboo flute, bass flute, piccolo, metalflute in C, harmonica, reeds, whistles, djembe, percussion
- Daniele Cavallanti / soprano sax, tenor sax, clarin
- Antonio Cerantola / 6 stings acoustic guitar, 12 stings acoustic guitar, balalaika, zither, dulcimer, viola, violin
- Lino "Capra" Vaccina / maroccan bongos, koborò, african drums, tabla, gong, xilophone, whistles, cymbals, musical bow, marimba, percussion
- Laura Maioli / tambura, percussion, whistles
Their second album, "La Terra" (74), is considered their masterpiece, surpassing even the more ambitious but poorly recorded "Tappeto Volante" (76). "La Terra" contains four extended instrumental tracks that combine Indian percussion, strains of American jazz and blues as well as Mediterranean and North African ethnic music. It features additional musicians each mastering yet another ethnic instrument: among them are Trilok Gurtu - who later went on to play with John McLaughlin and OREGON - as well as saxophonist Daniele Cavallanti and guitarist Attilo Zanchi, both now well-established members of the Italian jazz scene.
Aktuala have an amazing sound that is not at all what one would typically expect to hear from an Italian band making what is supposed to be folk music. There albums are quite difficult to find today, but are well worth the effort for those who have an interest in complex, primitive music like raga and non-Anglo old folk.
There are no less than three dozen instruments employed on this album, with most of them representing African and Caribbean roots as well as Latin and more traditional sounds. The rhythms are provided via djembe hand drums, Moroccan bongos, koborò and other earthy African drums, while the stringed instruments include The Eastern tambura, zither and hammered dulcimer, as well as a Russian balalaika, violin and of course all manner of six and twelve string guitars. There are also plenty of horns including saxophone, clarinet, oboe, piccolo and various flutes, along with all manner of percussion mostly of the African or Eastern variety.
Like I said this is primitive music in its construction, but the execution shows both a mastery and reverence for ancient musical principles and execution. Third Ear Band comes to mind as a reference for putting this band into some sort of context, and they have also been compared to the experimental jazz outfit Oregon. These are both valid comparisons, but Aktuala go much further than either of those bands in experimenting and mixing sound to form a true world music collage.
The opening “When the Light Began” showcases all these instruments in a rambling, hypnotic swirl of sounds that will leave listeners breathless and also wanting more. The shorter and more brisk “Alef's Dance” is in a similar vein that comes across sounding as if this is meant to be some sort of dance arrangement of undetermined historical and ethnic origin, but with unmistakable Eastern roots.
The most bizarre track is “Mammoth RC” which combines African rhythms and percussion with a frenzied blast of horn-driven cacophony that I guess is supposed to be free-form jazz and which has little perceptible structure or melody. But it comes around at the end and closes with a thudding African drum beat that leaves one with a sense of completion.
“Sarah' Ngwega” is a bit like “Alef’s Dance” in that it is spirited, highly percussive and danceable, while the closing “Dejanira” has a persistent drum beat and jazzy horns mixed with tambura to create an almost spiritual mood.
This is definitely not what one would expect from Italian folk music, and in fact it isn’t. The only things that are really Italian here are most of the musicians. For fans of primitive and world music this is a treat waiting to be discovered, and I highly recommend it. This is about as close to a five star album as I’ve heard in quite a while, and in fact I’m going to give it that in recognition of the fact that it grabbed me right by the ears and held my attention the very first time I heard it. There’s very little music that does that any more, so for those spend an awful lot of time experiencing and delving into different forms of music all the time, this may be an acquired taste but it will likely also be a huge treat.