Phil DiPietro (All About Jazz)
"It's always exciting to uncover a surprising new talent—the kid who comes out of nowhere. Hailing from Philly by way of Italy, Massimo DeAngelis (who prefers to be known as “Massimo”), at 40-plus no young kid perhaps, arrives as prog-fusion drumming’s newest gun on the block. He's also, simultaneously, a seasoned veteran capable of stepping into any drum chair that may become vacant—from, for example, the one in Dream Theater, to any number of mainstream jazzers, such as John Swana.
That unlikely segue is meant to trumpet the presence of Swana, one of jazz's most proficiently gifted horn men, here mostly playing the Electronic Valve Instrument (EVI) for trumpeters by Nile Steiner, using electronic patches rendering its “trumpet” genesis all but unrecognizable. Throughout, Swana shows he's a premier stylist on the synth-horn, rivaling the chops of the EVI saxophonist, Steve Tavagione or the atmospherics of electronica trumpynthesist, Ben Neill.
We also have electric five-string bassist Chico Huff, bearing an impressive resume that lately includes notable performances on high energy recordings by two Philly guitar masters: the post-Hendrixian, Jef Lee Johnson and post-Holdsworthian, Scott McGill. Huff's extra-jazz credentials include not only pop icons James Taylor and Carly Simon, but also what many critics regard as the most virtuosic Irish traditional band in the world, Solas. All this indicates that Huff has huge ears, capacious musical acumen and chops that go for days.
The same goes for the session’s most unlikely participant, fellow Philly paisan and guitar institution, Steve Giordano, who possesses a bop-dominated discography including sessions with Trudy Pitts and Willis Jackson running two decades deep into the Muse catalog.
As with many debuts, a thorough examination of the first song unveils the aesthetic at work on the remainder of the maiden voyage. Turn up “Mind Over Matter” (to eleven) to hear Swana playing his version of Corea-esque lead Arp lines. These state the theme over Massimo's synth pads (yes, he plays keyboards too) over his own super-busy drums, which interweave and lock with the melody line.
All of this combines to evoke “Hymn Of Seventh Galaxy” period Return To Forever. Huff's bass enters well into the tune, helping us catch a breath before Swana’s solo gradually spirals forward in snippets, until his longer passages sweep us away. Giordano's squeaky clean bop lyricism is somehow incorporated seamlessly into this super-high energy electric fantasy, into which Massimo drops Colaiuta-esque bombs, flurries and accents everywhere (perhaps because his synth has suddenly dropped from the atmosphere). Be sure to check out Massimo’s prodigious one-second splay between Giordano's single line and chord solo, before he takes his own rousing synth-propelled bridge out of the solo section for a monstrous display on the kit.
The whole session, steeped in surrealist prog soundscapes, was conceived, recorded, mixed and mastered by Massimo, who proves an adept keyboardist and synthesist. But it's his drums that astound, with the kit following the melodic contour throughout, in the manner of Terry Bozzio. Most of the session has the potential to melt your rig, like “Stacked,” which features Huff just going off into blistering territory that includes searing 64th note lines, super-clean octave runs and double-stopped madness. Swana’s “Stacked” performance simultaneously recalls Corea's most impossible vintage synth leads, and stands as the session performance that establishes him as our most virtuosic practitioner of the trumpet-type EVI.
Perhaps the session’s slowest number, “A Minor Purpose,” provides a clue to the focus of Massimo's future efforts. This evocative ballad features him on two synth solos, a spooky squeeze-off and a final thicker vintaged volley, that bookend a gorgeous solo by Giordano, dancing duet-like with Huff's intuiting bass line. All the while, the drums languidly push and pull the time, evoking sci-fi tears.
Massimo has crafted a noteworthy release totally under his own flagship. Responsible for almost every detail of the recording save for his musical partners' extemporizations, Mind Over Matter is an example of a completely independent effort worthy of wider exposure. While it’s easy to envision this album pushing Massimo into center stage at drumming festivals worldwide, it’s also no stretch to see him moving from this recording into a blossoming career as prog-rock opus auteur."
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Josh Turner (Upbeat)
"This reads like an advertisement from Asics. Most people don’t realize the meaning of their moniker, but the initials actually stand for something less trivial than apparel or footwear. When the abbreviation inflates, a series of well-hidden words are formed inside its bloat. The obfuscated idiom lodged within the balloon goes something like this, “Anima Sana in Corpore Sano.” This is Latin, and for those who cannot convert the catchphrase, the elusive text translates to something with real substance. With the expansion and translation finally carried out, the evocative epistle turns out to be, “A sound mind in a sound body.”
In 1946, Kihachiro Onitsuka didn’t just want to create a shoe company; he wanted to spread a philosophy. The thoughtful founder felt that technology isn’t anything if it doesn’t bring out the best in us, and that the best way was to cultivate that harmony was through sport. Several decades later, his small company has grown to be the colossal multinational known as Asics, which is an influential and popular brand derived from a simple, but potent message. To this day, it continues to gain ground.
Now how does this relate?
In 2006, Massimo matched Onitsuka’s alliance between the body and soul, and improved the connection that links musical interpretation to people. Mind Over Matter does for your crown, spirit, and core what Onitsuka’s shoes allegedly have done for your soles. To fully comprehend, you will need to flex your telepathic muscle. So, when running through his rhythms, you’ll have to forget your appendages. This is accomplished by concentrating “solely” on your psyche.
Let’s analyze, ponder, and probe, the complex questions, conundrums, and brainteasers encountered in each thought-inducing lap (or track):
Mind Over Matter – This one flows with the syncopated cadence of Far Corner. As if it were a straightjacket, it appears easy to shed, but it’s not that effortless to unsnap. Like that puzzling outfit, this album constitutes thinking man’s music, and it just so happens that this is the best riddle on the disc. As if being evaluated for entry into Mensa, Massimo wastes no time testing the listener for aptitude, intelligence, and patience. Plus, Steve Giordano’s guitars seemingly play with your head. All around, it’s a strong response to the starter pistol.
Entrance to My World – Complements of Massimo’s drums, this has the crunch and rattle of compressors pushing down upon a heap of outmoded robots. It makes me think of Hans, Luke, and Leia cramped inside the trash pit. As they tap on the doors and look for a means to breakout, C3-PO complains while R2-D2 whistles. This is avant-garde at its finest, and it’s so far out from the mainstream that the average listener will be left perplexed. Even so, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure, and while this was fairly random, I relished every indiscriminate moment.
The Fun House – The jester’s laugh triggers the onset of a very spacey circus. All the while, Massimo’s keys dance around in the most mischievous and clownish manner. This is one exceedingly-psychedelic show.
Surprise Land – Here we are rudely abducted. Once the blindfold is shucked aside, we find ourselves in an alien world where the amphibians rule the terra firma. To keep themselves preoccupied, these fork-tongued fusionists participate in some form of galactic baseball. John Swana’s trumpets emit a familiar sound, which remind me of Frogg Café’s eclectic mix. Conversely, this has much in common with Jack Norworth’s unofficial theme of America’s supposed pastime.
A Minor Purpose – A hop, skip, and a jump away from Saturn, we find a moon where the atmosphere is sparse. Thick clouds cover the surroundings for as far as the eye can see, or *ahem*, the ear can hear. This might be minimalist fog, but it’s still a breath of fresh air.
Emphasis of a Goddess – A blinding sensation surrounds this deity. It’s goldenrod with a hint of beige. The tips of her majesty’s aura are capped with garland, and the ribbons flicker like that of a time-elapsed flame. As if Helen of Troy or Cleopatra were in the flesh, this is mesmerizing enough to launch a platoon of ships. The road is long and the path is winding since the queen is carried for miles at a time. The weary sun is also brought on by white-hot and busy keyboards. Out of the shadows and under the solar-infused skies, the ordeal makes me tired too. I appreciated its texture, but after awhile, I anticipated the arrival of the next selected strain.
Strength of Soul – Like a mirage, this body of water didn’t quench my need for hydration as I initially hoped. The other astral pools are somewhat more refreshing, which is why this one passed by in a flash.
Ludvik Meets Helena – This song is romantic albeit a tad bit sappy. It’s akin to a Seventies ballad discoed by Buddha or spun by Dennis DeYoung. After an extensive climb, the man in the mountain has no sage advice. It’s not as scholarly or shrewd as the title track or for that matter, the last. However, it closely resembles the album Inner Peace by the award-winning and acclaimed, Steven Halpern. If you’ve never heard of this artist, it‘s advised you consult eMusic, Amazon, or iTunes. As for this song, I would not be all that surprised to hear it played overhead at Starbucks or showcased by the cash register at Borders.
Stacked – I find the title and position of this piece to be precariously-placed, because it neither hints to Pamela Anderson nor books. Chico Huff’s bass is best in this number and it’s similar to Jonas Reingold, who is The Flower King’s supremely-pretentious bassist. Massimo’s drums might be in the supporting role, but his sticky substance is essential when it comes to keeping the edifice standing. Where the construction is mostly translucent, he beams with shafts of light. In the end, the demolition ball swings towards the walls and bashes the columns, and just like that, the canticle comes tumbling down.
Artifacts – Without Giordano’s guitars, Massimo is left to cover the space in drums and keyboards. He leaves us in a great state with a cornucopia of relics, a miscellany of dried-out flowers, and a healthy hodgepodge of leftovers. Like a pair of gently-used sneakers whose exclusive purpose it to be worn about the house, the final cut fits the informality of these occasions to a tee.
Often it is heard how you can predict that next note or upcoming verse. With Massimo’s music, I had no idea where it was ever going. On occasion, it was at risk of falling off the edge of a cliff or worse, getting sucked into a black hole. In spite of this chaos, never did it wane or diminish. To the contrary, it continuously toyed with brainwaves and the commonly chronically-fatigued frequency of thoughts. In some ways, this is more difficult than making something that’s symmetrical, shapely, or cohesive. To set the record straight, this isn’t a sorry attempt at sarcasm. I was thoroughly-impressed with Massimo’s tricked-out arrangements.
While Onitsuka’s waffle-stompers will make your feet stick to the pavement, art adheres to ears in Massimo’s Mind over Matter. As if you slipped on a pair of Asics’ latest GEL-Kinsei shoes, you will be instantly-glued to the ambient tar that pads each track. I’ll be the first to admit that improvisational jazz or sporadic jams can sometimes be a bore, but in this particular product line, I never felt the need to detach the headphones from my lobes."
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