ITALIAN SURF ACADEMY
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ITALIAN SURF ACADEMY

Brooklyn, New York, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2012 | INDIE

Brooklyn, New York, United States | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2012
Band Alternative Surf Rock

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"ITALIAN SURF ACADEMY Live at Barbes, June 4, 2016"

The trio that comprises Italian Surf Academy lives in musical sphere without boundaries; spy guitar effortlessly dances to Downtown improv before encompassing spaghetti western and “giallo” horror movie themes. Imagine if you will a music free to revel in a nostalgia that constantly reinvents itself.

Founded by guitarist Marco Cappelli while still living in his native Italy, the band was designed to musically demarcate the post-WW2 Western European vision of American culture. As he stated, “The US represented much more than a geographic place, it was a concept which we dreamed of belonging to”. After some twelve years of residing in this country, Cappelli’s musical mélange may be more parody than adulation (hey, he was present during the W Bush years), but in any event, the spirit of the inspiration burns brilliantly. These days Italian Surf Academy is 2/3 American with the inclusion of much sought-after bassist Damon Banks and young lion drummer Dave Miller, thus realizing the cultural fusion bridging the Atlantic.

Opening its June residency at Park Slope performance space Barbes, the band tore into its unique repertoire for an enthusiastic audience. Immediately, the familiar sparkling, shimmering guitar sound of another era filled the room as Italian Surf Academy kicked off with “Django”. Over the better part of one hour, the band reimagined main title themes from decades-old Italian productions, ranging from the noted to the rather notorious, featuring compositions of Ennio Morricone among others, and threw in Tommy Tedesco guitar licks, moments of bossa novas and escapades of free jazz as needed. But each adaptation was tightly arranged and offered the in-your-face rad bravura New York can claim as original. Bank’s effortless, grooving terra firma made a nice counter-part to Miller’s skittering, broken rhythms over a two-piece drumkit colored by small gongs, few cymbals and a cowbell or two. Both Banks and Miller focused on the leader’s alternately screaming and singing ax, supporting Cappelli within this ongoing, embracing three-way conversation.

Highlights included Carlo Rustichelli’s music from the score of Mario Bava’s “Blood and Black Lace” and the finale “Secret Agent Man” (here an avant expansion of the Ventures’ arrangement), which morphed into John Barry’s James Bond theme before juxtaposing to the Vic Mizzy “Munsters” title music and then back to into black-and-white.

DON’T LET JUNE GET AWAY WITHOUT STOPPING INTO BARBES ON SATURDAYS AT 6. Your sense of art and need for fun and reminiscence will fight it out like they’re on opposite sides of the iron curtain---except instead of suspicion and showdown, Italian Surf Academy lets both sides party victoriously.

This summer it’s time to really come in from the Cold.

{Barbes 376 9th Street, Brooklyn NY} - JOHN PIETARO / The Cultural Worker


"Italian Surf Academy: The American Dream (Mode Records)"

Whether you’re touring the seaside cobblestone streets of Calabria via Vespa scooter or surfing the swells of Manhattan Beach, balance is crucial. And in this heady amalgam of 1950s and ’60s American surf rock, psychedelia and folkloric Italian melodies, Cappelli and his Italian Surf Academy have embraced that concept wholeheartedly. Throughout the 10 tracks on The American Dream, Cappelli alternates between Mediterranean-inspired ax lines and trem-heavy West Coast tones, while occasionally shredding a track down to its core with painstaking distorted noise. Cappelli is often catalogued in the same file as Nels Cline and Marc Ribot, and that comparison is not far off. (He’ll hit the stage with Ribot’s Ceramic Dog outfit at the Brooklyn venue Littlefield on Oct. 26.) Bassist Luca Lo Bianco and drummer Francesco Cusa—who are both in the group Naked Musicians—provide a steady rhythmic wave for Cappelli to ride smoothly to shore, but on the reggae-influenced, highly syncopated “Cinque Bambole” and the free-jazz-on-acid spine-chiller “Blood On Black Lace,” they churn up a few contrapuntal rip currents, which Cappelli navigates with ease. All the songs here are from Italian composers, except for a straight-shooting version of Johnny Rivers’ 1966 hit “Secret Agent Man.” A rendition of Ennio Morricone’s The Good, The Bad And The Ugly theme is true to form, proving that some tidbits of culture are borderless. The most fascinating elements of The American Dream are, ironically, not precisely American: the mandolin-reminiscent refrains on “Django” or the sophisticated tinge of old-school Italian within the confines of old-fashioned rock ’n’ roll, such as vocalist Gaia Matteuzzi’s operatic, euphoric groundswell on “Sesso Matto.” It’s the musical equivalent of pouring Peroni into pineapple juice, and the resulting concoction is oh-so-tasty. - HILARY BROWN / DOWNBEAT MAGAZINE


"Catch a Wave"

As a child in Naples, Italy, guitarist Marco Cappelli had little exposure to American surf music—the instrumental guitar-centric dance sound of the early 1960s popularized by the likes of Dick Dale, Duane Eddy, Link Wray and the Ventures featuring Bob Bogle. But, like many of his countrymen, he heard the twangy surf guitar featured in the film music of Luis Bacalov, Ennio Morricone, Carlo Rustichelli and Piero Umiliani, composers who scored Italian spaghetti westerns, gangster flicks and comedies.

"It was not very systematic, my approach," said Mr. Cappelli, who is 47, last week by phone from outside Salerno, Italy, where he was preparing for a concert with his Italian Surf Academy featuring Francesco Cusa on drums and Luca Lo Bianco on bass. "When I was a teenager studying classical guitar and the folk music of my region, I was playing electric guitar too," Mr. Cappelli continued. "I was very familiar with surf music from cinema: Those films and records were such big hits. When I moved to New York, I already had this sound in my ears."

The group's new album, "The American Dream" (Mode), features improvisations on themes by the aforementioned composers delivered with a sensibility found in some of the work of Nels Cline, Bill Frisell and Marc Ribot, among others associated with New York's downtown avant-garde jazz scene. It's a fascinating exploration of engaging music. "Django" stays true to the melody and atmosphere of Mr. Bacalov's theme to Sergio Corbucci's 1966 film of the same name, but the trio allows it to crumble amid a flurry of independent soloing. After a sudden stop, the musicians resume the theme. Then Mr. Cappelli begins a rubbery reggae rhythm and his mates join in. All the while, the twangy surf guitar remains at the forefront courtesy of Mr. Cappelli's Gretsch guitar.

That surf sound may have influenced Mr. Cappelli in subtle ways. While studying at the Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia of Rome, his teacher was Bruno Battista D'Amario, a guitarist often featured in Mr. Morricone's scores. Many musicians who worked in the Italian film industry at the time came from classical backgrounds—at Santa Cecilia, Mr. Morricone studied under Goffredo Petrassi, who developed an Italian stream of modern classical music. "In the '60s and '70s," Mr. Cappelli said, "if a musician wanted to make money in Rome, you had to be involved in the film industry."

The composers' sophistication is apparent, he added. "Even if the themes are easy listening in a way, if you study the melodic line, you see they were really well done. It's not easy music."

In the late '90s, as he began to delve into avant-garde jazz, Mr. Cappelli became enraptured with John Zorn's "Book of Heads," which featured Mr. Ribot playing 35 études for solo guitar. Messrs. Ribot and Cappelli formed a friendship; after Mr. Cappelli moved to New York to be closer to musicians with a shared sensibility, Mr. Ribot encouraged him to explore American surf music. "The repertoire was in my background," Mr. Cappelli said. "The challenge was to mix my improvisational approach with this kind of stuff."

The Italian Surf Academy came together while Mr. Cappelli was teaching a master class in Palermo. The trio had been jamming on '60s-style Italian film compositions, but an invitation to perform in New York gave them a chance to try them out in front of an audience. From the beginning, he said, music fans have responded well to their approach. Even when the music is most threatening—those spaghetti westerns often required themes that supported acts of unbridled violence—the melodies conveyed on electric guitar have a giggly élan, as if they're winking at the listener.

"It's a pleasure to improvise with this music. If you approach it from a free improvisational point of view, you get the audience with you. You can play all the crazy stuff you want and they will be with you. Sometimes we stay in a tonal environment, sometimes we go far off."

The Italian Surf Academy's "definition of surf is a little extended," Mr. Cappelli said. Mr. Cusa kicks off "Tiffany Sequence" with a New Orleans-style second-line pattern, while "Cinque Bambole" has a straight Ventures-style feel until Mr. Cappelli makes eerie sounds when the rhythm section drops out; after some curious meandering, order is restored. As for "Blood and Black Lace," from the jump it gets the ominous treatment the title demands and grows darker as Mr. Cappelli adds delay and echo to his squeals.

"There is something about the electric-guitar identity that comes from this sound environment," he said of surf music. "You have to master that kind of sound if you want to play." The Italian take on it, he added, is perfect for improvisational music. "It gives you someplace to come from and someplace to go to." - Jim Fusilli / The Wall Street Journal


Discography

Mode Records
ITALIAN SURF ACADEMY
The American Dream
(mode avant 13)


1. DJANGO (6:13) by Luis Enriquez Bacalov

from the movie Django 1966, by Sergio Corbucci


2. CINQUE BAMBOLE (3:55) by Piero Umiliani

from the movie 5 Bambole per la Luna d’Agosto, 1970, by Mario Bava


3. THE SUNDOWN / SAN ANTONIO MISSION (6:34) by Ennio Morricone

from the movie The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966 by Sergio Leone


4. DEEP DEEP DOWN (4:31) by Ennio Morricone

from the movie Danger: Diabolik, 1968 by Mario Bava*


5. TIFFANY SEQUENCE (4:30) by Riz Ortolani

from the movie Tiffany Memorandum, 1967 by Sergio Grieco


6. BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (5:26) by Carlo Rustichelli

from the movie Six Women for the Murderer, 1964 by Mario Bava


7. SESSO MATTO (4:44) by Armando Trovajoli

from the movie Sessomatto, 1973 by Dino Risi*


8. DRIVING DECOY (3:12) by Ennio Morricone

from the movie Danger: Diabolik, 1968 by Mario Bava


9. SECRET AGENT MAN (5:57) by Steve Barri & P. F. Sloan

from the TV series Secret Agent, 1964-66


10. EVA KANT: Postlude (2:28) by Marco Cappelli



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Bio

ITALIAN SURF ACADEMY was formed by Marco Cappelli after long conversations with Marc Ribot about the roots of the electric guitar "sound". Although several classic themes are rearranged and de-constructed, the music is fresh and unpredictable. Through its irony, ITALIAN SURF ACADEMY triggers memories that coexist with a very specific artistic vision: Back then (the 1950's through the 1970's) the U.S. was more than a geographic place … it was a concept that we Europeans dreamed of belonging to. The prairies, a cowboy on his horse riding into the sunset encompassed by that warm guitar sound with a lot of reverb … all of it. This image was made up by the American movie industry and redone in many movies with a “made in Italy” label, that was expressed in Italy and abroad by Italiandirectors. That’s why we decided to create the ITALIAN SURF ACADEMYas a project that represents this musical and visual concept". Intensively active since 2010 in Europe (Italy / France / Scandinavia), United States (New York / California) and Asia (China / Japan), ITALIAN SURF ACADEMY paid its dues by touring in rock and jazz clubs, as well as in theaters and festivals around the world. The core trio, formed by Marco Cappelli, Damon Banks and Dave Miller, has occasionally collaborated with guest artists such as guitarist Marc Ribot, vocalist Shelley Hirsch and visual artist VJ Lapsus.

Band Members