I LOVE fusion bands. I really do. You never know what to expect, and that’s because they’re a fusion of flavours.
Italian musicians in particular have always delivered when it comes to jazz music, a truly energetic burst of blues, funk and rock and roll. From the multi-lingual border region of Ticino, in Switzerland, guitarist Matteo Finali brings Final Step with their fifth album release, Disconnections. Its not so much disconnections as it is a celebration of that which unites us all: music, powerful music that makes you dance, shake, reflect and dance again.
It’s no surprise that these five stellar musicians, guitarist Matteo Finali; Mirko Roccato (saxophones ) Alessandro Ponti (Hammond organ and keys), bassist Federico Barluzzi and drummer Dario Milan live up to this reputation of what I would refer to as the Italian-Swiss answer to that post-Miles brand of electric jazz.
To start with, dear readers, this is an album which must be heard when performed live. Its production is nothing short of pristine, polished and energetic – which makes me beg the question of would it sound different, perhaps a little more daring, live? That’s a good thing, because truth be told good records can only be considered great when performed live. It’s not that the players, all formidable in their own right, hold back; they deliver just the right amount of virtuoso playing to hint at the certified potential of a raw, Miles-like sound.
Moving on, as I’m already dancing in my chair whilst reviewing Final Step – case in point:
“At a time when everyone is seemingly ‘connected’ all the time via their computers and phones, we want to bring a much-needed jolt of energy, reminding people of the importance of disconnecting and enjoying the spirit of live music,” they say. This is already a confirmation of that stellar sound on Disconnections. The music overall is nothing short of passionate, rhythmic and unashamedly funky, whilst displaying a compositional creativity that highlights bandleader Matteo Finali’s jazz credentials.
The album plays out like a live setlist, starting with the gorgeous instrumental, “Prelude – Love Ballade” serving as a warm-up to the following title track; a playful, funky blues cry hearkening back to a New Orleans’ nola vista. Shifting between a blues shuffle and a swing chorus with a stellar horn section, the repeated motifs become a clear indication early on that the band like to showcase each other’s talents, and rightly so; particular praise for the keyboardist’s short but energetic solo.
Shifting landscape and feel from the American South to continental Africa, Finali’s compositional skills highlight a more melodic, light interplay, superbly intersecting between the rhythm section and giving room to the bassist to subtly underpin a feeling of travel in “Leaving For”, allowing the listener to travel to their own terrain.
Cleverly leaving the harmonious sounds of West African harmonies, “In a Brooklyn Store” is the wildest, grooviest of tracks and arguably a clear indication of a city which feeds artistically off its ‘disconnections’. Stylistically, there’s that undeniable East Brooklyn Miles creeping back into the sound, with a gradual build to a more orchestral, contemporary sound. There’s the perfect amount of space between each motif, delivering that sense of conflicting contrast. One could argue: an extension between the improvised instrumental solos and heavily sequenced rhythm section.
All that boisterous, fusion energy dissipates into a calming (and much needed) soulful guitar interlude in, well, “Interlude- Country Road”. It’s a reflective track, the kind that, as is the band’s intention, makes you completely aware of the versatility behind the music, and if it were live, I doubt you’d be looking at your phone.
I’ve said it before: Italians (or in this case, Swiss-Italians) are sometimes wonderfully all about that funky rock and roll. “Prickly Pear Jam” is that right amount of funky soul and sweet rock and roll that when heard live, the audience will be completely dancing away with the band’s playful and joyful energy. A jam session, if you will.
“Ladybug” took me by surprise, as I instantly heard a beautiful homage to Miles Davis’ In A Silent Way. Whether intentional or not, “Ladybug” displays wonderful showmanship (especially from the band’s saxophonist) of a more emotionally evocative delivery sometimes absent from fusion ensembles. Definitely my favourite track of the album.
Final Step literally take us to church with an unknown reverend with “Sunday Morning Rev”. It’s got Jazz Messengers written all over it, but in their own distinct, toe-tapping, James Brownesque kind of way. Its a track I need to see live (and dance to) – special kudos to the keyboardists who brought the Hammond soul to life!
It only makes perfect sense therefore to have the band’s exquisite leader end the album himself by taking a graceful and achingly beautiful final step with “Postlude – Dreamtime”.
I can’t wait to hear them perform live.
Final Step’s Disconnections will be released digitally and on CD on June 14th and can be purchased at Bandcamp.