“Who or what is Andrea Scala then?” I thought as I gave Coming Back, Leaving Again its first quick spin. “Well, sonically it’s jazz but musically it’s a fusion of fusion, jazz, prog, electronica. Especially prog.” Always agog about prog, I googled ‘Andrea Scala drummer’ and top results focused on a chap delivering top batterie for an Italian prog act called Moonlight Comedy. “The same Andrea Scala?”
Didn’t know Shifting Paradigm Records either. Turns out it’s a musician operated and owned collective, founded in 2012 and based in Minneapolis. It hosts some deftly designed album covers (this one by the multi-talented Jamie Breiwick who recently released a fine homage to Don Cherry on this very same label) and a perfectly reasonable $ Patreon subscription.
Recorded in Scala’s home studio and two Italian locations, the lineup consists of Scala (drums), Francesco Puglisi and Giuseppe Romagnoli (bass), Fabio Raponi (keys), Roberto Tarenzi (piano), Nicola Costa and Manlio Maresca (guitar), Rosario Liberti (trombone) and Franco Santodonato (flugelhorn).
The opener, ‘Synthesis’, is a buoyantly stop-starty, prog-time piece fuelled by a relentless phat synth bass. Tarenzi delivers bursts of energised runs, phrases and chords before a Rhodes extraterrestrial exit. ‘Trees’ is a lush copse of Scando-ish piano jazz stylings with the simple, serenely elegant Raponi motifs collegiately enabled by Scala and Pglisis keeping it mostly simple (how unprog of them) until Scala kicks harder (could’ve been even harder, for my taste) to close.
‘Out Here’ stays in a similar vein but more powerful this time – a bit more Rymden than EST. Tarenzi is always playful and there’s some much appreciated, innervating syncopation. “If you want to be the best, if you want to beat the rest, Syncopation’s what you need”.
‘Overnight Walk’ is moist and bluesy, benefiting from a slick, judiciously-tremelo-armed solo by Costa. The hopeful ‘Young Sunrise’ reminds me of that delightfully perky, summer’s day when Guaraldi met Svensson.
‘Winter Haze and Far Off Lights’ is a short, aptly named ambient piece while ‘Towards Oxygen’ brings unexpected avant-garde ‘revelry’ via a soundscape that subtly shifts gears and develops into a sheet of, fellow countryman Giulio Aldinucci’s, white noise with a topping of lighty symphonic fluff.
‘Cracked’ disrespectfully elbows past the preceding high art. It’s progtastic, with the band relishing playing the naughty offspring of the noblest of royal couples, King Crimson and Queen PFM. Hammerstein’s ‘Nobody Else But Me’ ends things with Tarenzi as the ivory Sarah Vaughan.
There’s something here for everyone: Prog, Euro piano jazz, Hammerstein, avant-garde, Ambient. Sounds a bit much on one album doesn’t it? But it’s Scala’s baby and it highlights his fertile creativity. ‘Trees’, ‘Out Here’ and ‘Towards Oxygen’ are standouts for me and suggest that if Scala can further focus his fused vision in their voice, he’s at the start of a potentially exciting journey.