This is twice in one week that I’ve reviewed an album that focuses on the idea of the bassist as leader in jazz. With the David Finck album, he was simply an extraordinary bassist who could add another layer to the sound of fairly conventional compositions. But Italian bassist Ilaria Capalbo approaches her music from a completely different direction. Her new album Karthago, inspired by the ancient and tragic city of Carthage, comes from a darker and somewhat subdued land. At this music’s core, however, there’s a delicate surprise.
These eight original compositions are intriguing and original and far from an attempt to add another entry to the Great American Songbook. No, this is haunting music that strikes you as completely new. In contemporary jazz, that often means going off the tracks at least once in a while, but the magical element here is Ilaria Capalbo and her bass, always keeping everyone true to the melodies.
Ilaria Capalbo strikes me as the contemporary jazz equivalent of Paul McCartney. I’ve had plenty of arguments about who’s best, Jaco or Les or Ox or, in one surreal case, Geddy Lee, but I always throw McCartney into the discussion because I know it will trip up at least one person. Here’s the thing–when I listen to Paul’s bass, I get easily sucked in. I start hearing this wonderful little song within the song, a song that was mostly unknown until people stopped listening to the Beatles on little transistor radios. Ilaria Capalbo is always like that. Focus on her bass playing, and you’ll suddenly find another beautiful song in the still, deep water.
Aside from Ilaria Capalbo and her supremely musical bass, there’s a stunning and versatile ensemble following her lead–guitarist Andreas Hourdakis and drummer Fredrik Rundqvist are an adventurous core, and Capalbo has invited a few guests along the way, horns and reeds that also fall under her spell. There is darkness here, a sharp edge there, but if you find yourself drifting just work your way back to Ilaria Capalbo, who’s probably playing a song that not everyone can hear.