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25 November 2012

Enzo e il Cattivo Tempo

It seems that I'm fast becoming an ambassador for great Italian music. I recently hooked up with a gentleman by the name of Enzo Azzara who hails from Ragusa, Sicily. Enzo fronts a duo called Enzo e il Cattivo Tempo (Enzo and Bad Weather) with Peppe Mazzei. The band formed two years ago, but Enzo tells me that he and Peppe have been playing together for fifteen years. I must say... it shows.

"Never bring a moustache to a beard fight"
Here's a quick update on my contribution to movember with
expert adjudication by Enzo

I picked up a copy of Enzo e il Cattivo Tempo's self-titled first album this week and have been listening to it ever since. You can download enzoeilcattivotempo at a very reasonable price from iTunes, or maybe try before you buy... there are a few Enzo tracks available on youtube.

Before I talk about the music I'm going to take a moment to call out the artwork. All the graphics have been created by a very talented artist called Bruna Fornaro. I love them! Her images are stark black and white, often simply black silhouettes on white. It's very striking. There was one image in particular that caught my eye: It's of a ukulele with an umbrella handle sticking out of the head. That's not as crazy an idea as it might seem. ArCane Lutherie of Rio Nido (California) manufacture a whole heap of "cane" instruments with that same distinctive curved handle.

The umbrella uke and the cane uke
(Cane uke photos courtesy of Etsy

What about the music?

The album opens with a short tune called Intro/Jacqueline that has me thinking of Cirque du Soleil for some reason. It sets the tone for the rest of the album. What we have here is a beautifully eclectic collection of nine quirky (largely) acoustic songs that pay tribute to a wide range of genres including: pop, rock, ska, country, folk... and probably more, if only I was clever enough to spot them all. Having listened to a song called L'Armando (not part of this album) I remarked to Enzo that his style reminded me of Paolo Conte. Enzo's response was: "You make me a great compliment, Paolo Conte is a kind of spiritual guide for us." Fantastic!

Don't go thinking because I've used the word "quirky" that this music is in any way sub-par. That simply isn't the case. The production values are sky-high and the playing is extremely tight and quite frankly some of the best I've heard. The boys have managed to achieve an extremely full sound with virtually no percussion. I would love to witness these songs live. Anyone want to fund a trip for me to go to Italy to see this for myself? ;-)

Enzo and Bad Weather are: Enzo Azzara (vocals, guitar, ukulele, banjo, noise
 and porkpie) and Peppe Mazzei (double bass, backing vocals and bowler hat).
(Photo coutesty of Federica Vero)

I was surprised by the over-all sound. I think it helps that there are a ton of instruments dropping in and out of the arrangements. I spotted bass, ukulele, banjo (yay!), guitar (straight and with slide and tremolo effects), piano and bells... all topped off by Enzo's distinctive vocals. I have no doubt at all that these are challenging songs to play. The boys make it sound easy! There are some great progressions with unexpected chord changes - which you know I love. I found everything to be familiar, but fresh. Well done!

The first CD! The future's so bright that the guys need to wear shades!
enzoeilcattivotempo was produced by Lorenzo Manganaro at an 
independent label called LaPiovraRicordi studios.

The lyrics are Italian, so I have virtually no idea what they are about. Maybe I need to pull my finger out and learn some! What I can say is that there is an obvious art to the rhythm of the words. They sounded great to my ear. If you don't speak Italian, don't be put off as being fluent may not help you much anyway; Enzo tells me that the lyrics are absurd and nonsensical and that even Italians find them hard to understand! Ha ha. Brilliant.

I asked Enzo what the songs are about and he's been kind enough to describe some of the the themes. He apologises for his bad English, but no apology is needed... you should hear my Italian! Here's what Enzo had to say:
"Jacqueline" is the story of a prostitute and on the quantification of the love of money, the demon "Belzebù" is destined to always be the second in the hierarchy of hell; "Topi da Laboratorio" is the story of two mice that live in a pharmaceutical laboratory where they also create synthetic drugs; "Il mio psichiatra" is about mental illness; "Averti o non averti scrivania" is the cornaca a murder; "Alambicco" is a country on the distillation of whiskey; "Ciao!" is the story of a love that ended before it began. In all the songs there is a common thread that cynicism, nihilism, absurdity, wickedness and of course a lot of irony.
It seems a real shame to single out any one song but I do have a favourite and it is called Ancora un Pò (which I think translates to "a little"). What a beautiful song. It's a rocky acoustic number that hits the spot perfectly. There's a bit in the middle where Enzo - caught up in the emotion of the moment - lets loose a scream of joy. I felt it too brother Enzo! I felt it too... :-)

Enzo on his uke - with that trademark umbrella!
(Photo coutesty of Federica Vero)

I can't go any further without a little bit of ukulele trivia for you. Thank you Enzo for sharing some of your secrets with us! ;-)

I think I'm correct when I say that Enzo has been playing ukulele for three years. He listens to a lot of ukulele songs and particularly enjoys Hawaiian music. When he plays live he will often choose to perform on ukulele even when the original songs weren't actually arranged or recorded on ukulele. For his live performances Enzo plays a Kala Archtop with "moody" D'Addario strings. In the studio he prefers a Vintage mohogany soprano ukulele with wound strings. Specifically, on enzoeilcattivotempo, Enzo went for a natural sound using "good wood and panoramic microphones". I must say that I loved what they guys achieved in the studio; I know myself how difficult it is to capture a good ukulele sound.

Let's not forget Peppe Mazzei!!!
(Photo coutesty of Federica Vero)

Looking ahead... the boys are in pre-production of their new album Fando! I can't wait to hear what it sounds like. I think you can tell that I've enjoyed putting this review together and getting to know Enzo. He's got a great sense of humour. In our last conversation he closed with: "I'll see you in your stereo!" Ha ha. You certainly will Enzo! I love the first album and I'm excited to hear more from Enzo e il Cattivo Tempo. Trust me... I bet there are some great surprises in store!

Buona notte ukulele fanatici!

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