March 1996 – album reviews – Nicola Alesini & Pier Luigi Andreoni’s ‘Marco Polo’ (“like diving into a tapestry”)

24 Mar

Nicola Alesini & Pier Paulo Andreoni: 'Marco Polo'

Nicola Alesini & Pier Paulo Andreoni: ‘Marco Polo’

Listening to this album is like diving into a tapestry. Well, I guess a lot of prog and ambient-related music is, given its emphasis on the visual qualities of music and the proggy tendency (in particular) to fixate on the past; and that counts for even more at the crossover point. Nicola Alesini and Pier Luigi Andreoni, though, do it that much better. ‘Marco Polo’ – based loosely on the adventures of said merchant, explorer and diplomatic in the mediaeval Cathay of Kublai Khan – is a journey on the silkiest of roads, one on which you could really lose yourself in the billowing, drifting shapes which reality assumes.

Even while rising in the world of Italian jazz, saxophonist Alesini has also frequently been drawn into the world of art rock, kosmische music and ambient electronica. Andreoni’s already had a two-decade history as a multi-instrumentalist – starting out with Piacenzan comedy rockers La Pattona in the mid-’70s and passing through New Wave, experimental folk and minimalist synthing via The Doubling Riders and A.T.R.O.X. during the ’80s. Most recently, he’s been making a showing in the experimental ambient Andreolina duo during the ’90s. Much of the latter (with the exception of the comedy) leaves its mark on ‘Marco Polo’, although arguably the defining musical voice is Alesini’s upfront, intimate soprano sax – breathy, sweet and fragile, yet possessing a white-flame passion.

Andreoni, meanwhile, reveals himself to be a master of ambient keyboarding following the Brian Eno and Richard Barbieri path, using his instruments as subtle invisible chisels for sculpting electrons and the air into a colossal romantic spectrum of sound. Between the two of them they craft a set of compositions that phase slowly across the face of the world, colouring their own instrumental textures with the careful deployment of harmoniums and bouzoukis, cello and atmosphere guitar. This is an album of travelling, of seeing heartstopping landscapes for the first time, of releasing those feelings that the wanderer knows, of attempting to paint all of this in music.

This they do in glowing detail; the snake-charmer sax of Sumatra, the warped radio-chat and disassociated sway of Buchara, the metallophone Chinese chiming and fluting reeds of Quinsai, La Citta’del Cielo. With this type of thought being brought to bear on it, ‘Marco Polo’ is very much a deep-shaded ambient dreamscape album of the David Sylvian school, filled with sweeps of electronic space and shade, and immeasurably elevated when other musicians drift into the mix to stir up Alesini and Andreoni’s immaculate studies. David Torn‘s contribution of guitars, for instance, which bellow like yaks or hover like the promise of avalanches in Yangchow or M. Polo; or when Harold Budd places his sparse Himalayan points of piano into Samarca or The Valley of Pamir.

Roger Eno is on board as well, his less polished keyboard approach adding a wonderfully naïve human touch to the lambent, warmly aloof perfection (in particular on the aquamarine piano study of Il Libro dell’Incessante Accordo con Il Cielo). The pale vulnerable tones of his voice carry reedily through the twinkling spectral travel-songs of M. Polo and Samarca. Arturo Stalteri (the New Age keyboardist who originally made his name in progressive Italian folk duo Pierrot Lunaire) adds harmonium to the former, buried deep in the mix somewhere. The best moments come, though, when David Sylvian himself is brought in to sing on three tracks; his luminous baritone wreathing through the misty dawn-music of Come Morning (Stalteri’s bouzouki adding a glimmering coda), fluttering above the vague rattling sketches of Maya, or brooding (over cello, sax and a rippling ghost of electronic percussion) on dreamy images of god-games on The Golden Way.

And yet, in spite of all of the talent squeezed onto the album, somehow ‘Marco Polo’ doesn’t completely satisfy. It’s a little too remote, too self-contained and preoccupied with its own panoramic reveries. Behind the rich melodies and atmospheres, there’s only the vaguest engagement with the historical Marco Polo and Cathay; there’s not quite enough substance behind the shimmering surface of the album’s undeniable loveliness. Maybe it’s best viewed from the other end of a room, from a distance where the threads in the tapestry blue together into a captivating portrait which defies laws of time and space, where it can give such a convincingly four-dimensional performance that its audience can forget its two-dimensional thinness. But if you can live with that, ‘Marco Polo’ makes a wonderful tapestry.

Nicola Alesini & Pier Luigi Andreoni: ‘Marco Polo’
Materiali Sonori, MASO CD 90069 (8012957006921)
CD-only album
22nd March 1996
Get it from: (2020 update) Get CD from Materiali Sonori, or second-hand; stream from, Apple Music, Google Play or Spotify.
Nicola Alesini & Pier Luigi Andreoni online:
Last FM YouTube Google Play Amazon Music
Nicola Alesini online:
Facebook Last FM Apple Music Vimeo Deezer Amazon Music
Pier Luigi Andreoni online:
Homepage Facebook Last FM Apple Music YouTube Vimeo Deezer Google Play Spotify Amazon Music

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