Roberto Cassani. Ansema We Stand

Last time we encountered Roberto Cassani, the Perthshire based, Italian born double bassist, was on his 2019 album, Oh!…L’Amore!, an autobiographical affair. It was far removed from his earlier work which was often comedy based, with Cassani encouraged to offer up more personal songs by his friend and mentor, the legendary Danny Thompson. Ansema We Stand maintains this shift into a more “serious” mode as Cassani delivers an album sung in Rivoltino, the endangered language of his native Lombardy, and marries this to an exquisite set of songs which reflect his Italian heritage but also have a great deal of Scottish traditional music woven throughout.

Cassani says of the album that “It values the influence Scotland has had on me over the years, while allowing me to create the first ever piece of art in my native dialect. It’s a proud moment. Covid was a bit of a starting point to celebrate what we can achieve as small communities to help each other and from this, comes a universal message: culture and community are essential to survive and flourish, especially in hard times.” To this end, the small community gathered around Cassani on the album consists of a storied roll call of venerable Scottish players – Anna Massie on guitar, fiddle, mandolin and tenor guitar, John Somerville on accordion, Steve Fivey on drums and percussions, Ross Ainslie on pipes and whistles, Hamish Napier on piano and flute and Greg Lawson on violin. It’s a terrific ensemble and they truly carry off the premise of celebrating the two cultures.

Several of the songs feature music which not be out of place on recent Blue Rose Code albums. That swirl of Caledonian mists and mystery are evoked several times on songs such as Dolina, Erio In Corsia, and, in particular, Mpedtada Quarantena. Italy is more pronounced on the enchanting L’Ada (which still has a Celtic sweep to it) and on two songs which open the album. Ansema translates from Rivoltino as Together and so the album begins by saying we stand together. The title song is a perfect mix of the two cultures; imagine Paulo Conte backed by Lau. It’s followed by Evviva which has the joy and exuberance of Italian popular music (think of Luna Mezzo Mare from The Godfather’s wedding party) allied to the skirl of trad Scots music. Quite magnificent. The closing song, An Basi (apparently a translation of a Robert Burns poem), serves to remind us that Cassani is a well respected double bass player, schooled by the Italian jazz bassist Giovanni Tommaso, as his instrument bounces and resonates under his dextrous touch on a superb solo performance.

This is certainly the most “complete” album we’ve heard from Cassani and it certainly achieves his aim of marrying two cultures. That it does so with such aplomb should certainly put it in line for some awards when they start handing out Trad music gongs.

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Roberto Cassani. Oh!…L’Amore!

a19ff59c-74cb-4519-bf7a-adbaa9ff2dd8The Perthshire based, Italian born, double bassist and arch humorist, Roberto Cassini, has certainly tickled our ribs over the years. Aside from being spectacularly funny on stage, he has penned numerous songs which manage to achieve what many “novelty” songs fail to do, that is, they are humorous and also listenable, to the extent that you can actually enjoy the musicianship involved. Cassani is usually accompanied by some fine musicians, in particular he has forged a fine relationship with the maverick Scots guitarist Owen Nicholson, but on Oh!…L’Amore! he plays all the instruments himself on an album which, in the main, eschews the humour as he delves into autobiography. The album does contain its fair share of Cassani’s impish words and light-footed playing but he does address some serious issues which have impacted on him including illness, migration and bereavements. He says that while he was somewhat reluctant to bare so much of his soul, he was encouraged to go for it by the legendary Danny Thompson whom Cassani worked with for some time last year.

So, Oh!…L’Amore is Cassani’s voyage from childhood in Milan to reflections on his current state of mind having buried his father. He opens with The Moon (La Luna) which includes some doo wop harmonies (alluding to the Marcels perhaps?), the silvery night time disc something of a talisman, comforting this “quite weird” child as it has accompanied him throughout his travels. He then drops in some cod reggae on Milano, Estate 1998, singing here in Italian much of the time on an effervescent little number before the downbeat Goodbye To Mamma allows Cassani to inject some pathos into his story. Over fractured guitar and a booming double bass, Cassani bids farewell to his adolescence and to his mother as he takes off for a new life in the UK which is represented initially by the brisk variété styled Kyer, 70 Maybank, set in Birmingham. It’s in Birmingham where he meets his wife to be and he recounts their romance on And I’m In Love, the one song here where Cassani’s tendency to joke overcomes the song.

With only nine songs on the disc, it’s obvious that Cassani can’t give us a blow by blow account of his years so he fast forwards somewhat for the remaining four numbers. I Found My Eyebrows On My Pillow addresses a cancer diagnosis he received and here his humour is perfectly placed. Dark, obviously, but pugnacious, as he rages against the illness and finds an upside as his family gather round radiating love. He celebrates his daughter on Lullaby For Ruby, a lovely song which manages the difficult job of sounding as if it came from a Disney film without any of the associated mawkishness (a whole album of songs such as this would surely be a great kids album). As the album grows in stature with these latter songs, Cassani delivers a wonderful salute to his late father on Ale’ Marino which seesaws between grief and joy. There’s the solemn description of the funeral (although Cassani still slips in some one liners) accompanied by a lively knees up as he imagines dad having a party in heaven boasting to St. Peter of his family as he opens bottles of prosecco. Cassani keeps the best for last as he delivers a summary of sorts on the title song. Here, he’s straightforward, no jokes, just an honest ode to life and love. If Cassani had a grittier voice, one could imagine this was a song by Paulo Conte.

Bravely personal, played with some brio and, at times, quite affecting, Oh!…L’Amore! deserves to be heard beyond the confines of the novelty songs Cassani is best known for.

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Dumb Instrument. The Silent Beard. Roberto Cassani. Man Flu

A couple of idiosyncratic Scottish releases here which run the gamut from pauky, almost gallows, humour to broad pastiche. Dumb Instrument are an Ayrshire troupe who apply a wonderful kaleidoscopic background to Tom Murray’s defiantly Scots voice which veers more towards King Creosote than The Proclaimers. Deadpan, insouciant, Murray almost croons his way through the songs which capture the dogged, world worn, stoical and “get it up ye” spirit of the West of Scotland male. Be it the presumed perennial question of Buckfast Vs. Hash, The battle Continues with its lounge jazz louche or the song proposed by the Daily Record as an alternative anthem, Suffering From Scottishness, which has a glorious widespread musical vista with sweeping piano and winsome harmonica as Murray paints a picture as vivid and gritty as a James Kelman novel. Elsewhere Remember Now opens with a lengthy instrumental passage with some fine keening pedal steel and spritely mandolin before Murray launches into a portrait of a lustful lass in her finery. Jealous Of The Junkies transports Tom Waits to somewhere like Coatbridge ( and apologies to Coatbridge here, ’twas the first name that cropped up) while The Savoy Cabbage Murderer is an absurdist look at vegetarianism and No-One Knows what It’s Like To be Me stomps along like a Caledonian Harry Nilsson. A favourite of ours is the fairground themed Five against One but the real deal is on the heart rending Missing Grannies where Murray is supported by a female harmony on a tender and nostalgic window into the past, almost like an Oscar Marzaroli picture set to music. The Silent Beard is an album that reflects such luminaries as Michael Marra, Ivor Cutler and much of the Fence Collective. It’s drenched in a Scottishness that discards kailyard nonsense and joins forces with the current revaluation of the nation in a sense. Aside from that it’s a great listen.
Dumb Instrument are in Glasgow this Friday at Steampunk Cafe, Aug 7th : The Tron Kirk, Edinburgh while Dumb Instrument will jointly headline The Verb Tent at Belladrum on Saturday 9th August with Roberto Cassani and playwright Hamish MacDonald in a Show called ‘Not The Referendum’. On Stage at 11.30pm.

In contrast Roberto Casssani & The Tickety Two are a much more one dimensional act with their tongue set firmly in their cheek. Cassani plays double bass and is joined by the ubermeister of Scottish guitar licks, Owen Nicholson with Dave Clelland on drums. Cassani writes comic songs, singing with an Italian accent while the trio as a whole are spot on with the music. No slouch on double bass himself Cassani surely won’t mind us pointing out that Nicholson’s guitar parts are the bees knees as he vamps, riffs, plucks and grooves in the manner of the best jazz guitarists. The trio set up makes for some fine listening and Cassani’s humour reminds one of the great late Slim Gaillard with a dash of Louis Prima although the ghost of Joe Dolce threatens to appear on some of the more pronounced Italian parodies. The humour is broad based, think of seaside postcards as they were celebrated by George Orwell, but a few of the songs hit the mark with Office Christmas Party in particular already lined up for this year’s festive celebrations. It’s probably best to view the disc as a fine souvenir for anyone who enjoyed a live show from this combo.