Marcelo Maccagnan has established himself as a bandleader and sideman on the New York scene.
Growing up playing a whole range of styles – rock, electronic music, Brazilian, pop – he took the opportunity of studying at Berklee in Boston to immerse himself fully in the jazz genre. The result is a truly authentic fusion of sounds which, whilst modern and electric, never loses sight of the improvisation.
Marcelo’s latest album, ‘Night Tales’, fuses contemporary jazz with the music of his Brazilian homeland and rock and electronic music of his youth. He brings together some of New York’s rising stars for a record whose influences run the full spectrum from Milton Nascimento to Third Rail and Donny McCaslin.
On an album that comes closer to “Progressive Jazz’ than many that have gone before, the guests include Lithuanian vocalist Simona Smirnova, Korean pianist Sukyung Kim, French drummer Maxime Cholley and Malaysian guitarist Andrew Cheng.
Opening track Creatures of Habit features the sole vocal on the album and Simona Smirnova delivers an eminently powerful performance on this brooding, tension infused piece of music. Full of delicious anticipation and elegant musicianship, it showcases the skill that these young musicians possess. As the vocal ebbs and flows, the sympathetic drums and bass weave their tale in perfect symmetry with Simona. Occasional flashes of Andrew Cheng’s guitar and super smooth flurries of Marcelo’s bass intersperse this darkly stylish song like short, sharp electric shocks. As the whole track erupts into something much more energetic and primal, the vocals take on an almost manic edge and the music threatens to explode into chaos, it’s a masterful and marvellous piece of music.
Glass is a wholly laid back and relaxed instrumental that brings a much more ambient feel to proceedings, the subtle bass and drums weave an undemanding line that the guitar follows with occasional iridescent flashes before the track bursts into life with a wonderful edgy and funky vibe. There’s a feel of improvisation among the soaring grooves and punchy guitar that lead the track to a satisfying close. Gungi (Japanese for ‘flock’ or ‘herd’, apparently) showcases a group connection and musical synergy that only hours of performing together can create and, to my ears, leans more on the jazz element than the progressive. Think late night, dark room in an intimate venue, packed to the rafters, the whole audience swaying and pulsing along to the elegant beat, Marcelo’s bass solo is particularly inventive and engrossing. As a nod to his early years as a rock musician, the sole non-original composition on the album is a cover of Black Hole Sun from legendary American grunge band Soundgarden. As a big fan of the band I was intrigued to hear what this take on the classic would sound like and, suffice to say, I wasn’t disappointed. The intense and impassioned guitar playing from Andrew Cheng just blew my mind and the way the rest of the instruments just play subdued in the background, allowing the guitar to shine, is genius. A superb tribute to the band and the late Chris Cornell that showcases how creative the modern musician can be when presenting songs in a whole new fashion.
Vital Spark is another prog infused jazz track that takes a theme and runs with it, creating a wistful, contemplative piece of music where the instruments delicately tread the path before them and the pin-sharp bass gets the lead once again. The polished drums and repetitive guitar add a bit of direction as this masterfully constructed song plays on your senses. Album closer Breaking Out is another stylish piece of music, full of gravitas and with a dignified air. It invokes a more serious, questing atmosphere and, again, takes me that late night jazz club somewhere in the dark recesses of New York where I’m left to while the night away in the company of like minded people.
‘Night Tales’ is a superb melting pot of musical styles, all brought together into something rather special by a consummate group of musicians and a bandleader that is at the height of his game. It’s one of the best jazz/prog fusion albums I’ve heard in rather a long time and, when I finish this review, I’m off to listen to it again!
Released 29th July, 2022.
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