by Tom Alexander (@___alexd)
In the summer of 1968, when Jerry Orbach took the stage to sing in a musical adaptation of Billy Wilder’s The Apartment, with music by Burt Bacharach, do you think he secretly knew that in 50 years time, an avant garde composer who used to play in a Boston-based noise rock band would re-record his song? Yeah, me neither, and that’s the one thing I have in common with Detective Lennie Briscoe. And yet, here we are, with New York City’s Tredici Bacci faithfully covering “Promises, Promises” in the heart of their new record, La Fine Del Futuro.
If the circumstances sound strange, then you must be new to Tredici Bacci’s music. The ensemble, led by composer/arranger Simon Hanes, finds inspiration from all corners of the musical spectrum: giallo film scores, lounge-lizard cocktails, Broadway musicals, hymns from the Middle Ages, and contemporary experimental composition. You get the idea; everything is fair game. Tredici Bacci, today, are bigger and more ambitious than they’ve ever been. When Tredici Bacci released their first EP, The Thirteen Kisses, the band’s music was a tribute to Italian cinema soundtracks, which sounds modest only in comparison to their new music. La Fine Del Futuro employs brass, woodwinds, strings, guitars, and voice to explore and blend several dimensions of sound.
Given the nature of the ensemble, it is impossible to point out a “star” – each musician and their instrument are like Jenga blocks in a perilously swaying tower. However, it would be hard to talk about La Fine Del Futuro without spending some time talking specifically about Sami Stevens, whose vocal performances are staggering in their beauty, power, and range. Not only does she give Dionne Warwick a run for her money on “Promises, Promises,” but her wide-eyed delivery in “In The 1970’s” and “Barbarians” are some of the highlights of the record. Stevens’ willingness to take a backseat to J.G. Thirlwell’s gritty-Western take of 12th century hymn “Emmanuelle,” or to Abigale Reisman’s violin on “Impressioni,” is what Tredici Bacci is all about: musicians coming together to support something grander than the individual pieces that make up the composition.
Just as Simon Hanes’ arrangements have incorporated more than the Italian film canon, his embrace of pop music has given Tredici Bacci a visceral bite, an immediacy. With the opening “Titoli De Testa,” the music grabs you by the ear and leads you down a 40-plus-minute spiral of warm, nostalgic sunlight. What is astonishing – and it still surprises me after dozens of listens – is just how unified La Fine Del Futuro sounds as a whole work. How on earth can a futuristic krautrock jam like “Minimalissimo” fit on an album with “Emmanuelle” on it?! Or a faithful cover of a Burt Bacharach showtune? With myriad influences, and a dozen musicians playing their own charts, the album is beautifully realized. If their previous work, Vai! Vai! Va was a score for an imagined film, then La Fine Del Futuro is the music/words for a yet-to-be-made Broadway musical. The romance of “Impressioni,” the glory of “The Liberty Belle,” and the tenderness of (Ryan Power cover) “The Cavalry” – this record has every emotion, all bundled in technicolor gift wrapping.