THE REGION OF CALABRIA, in Southern Italy, has seen a long and troubled history of conquest, invasion, and devastation. One of the oldest regions in the country, Calabria was first settled by the Greeks, then overrun by the Romans, who were in turn conquered by many, many others—before the unification of Italy in 1861. As a result of these numerous claims of ownership, Calabria has boasted a rich and diverse heritage, from their cuisine to their culture. The people of Calabria have taken a little bit of something from many sources and made it uniquely their own.
The same could be said of the band Mbrascatu (mm-brah-ska-too), founded by Calabrian native son Andrea Algieri. He formed the band in 2010 after relocating to Portland by way of New York, and Mbrascatu's music draws from many influences—but at its core is the sound of old Italy, of cobblestone streets and hand-drawn gelato carts. Mbrascatu's self-titled debut album, released in 2012, demonstrated Algieri's love of Italian folk and ballads, while just beginning to incorporate the sounds and eccentricities of his new home. With Tempo, their latest album, Mbrascatu has taken a large, confident step forward, further integrating Algieri's Italian folk with the influence of bandmates from many different musical and cultural backgrounds. Tempo is a much more dynamic album than their first release, with well-crafted arrangements, an international parade of instruments—electric and acoustic guitars, electric bass, drums, banjo, ukulele, violin, viola, chitarra battente ("beating guitar")—and a maturity that comes with time and cultivation.
Tempo was recorded in three days at Type Foundry with Adam Selzer, and that efficiency is a testament to the five-piece band's familiarity with the material, as well as their familiarity with one another. The album begins with a ballad, "Non Dirmi," guided by a beautifully arranged horn section and Algieri's gentle baritone. The next track, "San Francesco Bar," raises the energy significantly with its sing-along (or drink-along) chorus, sounding like a less-punk Gogol Bordello or a more-punk Squirrel Nut Zippers. The third song, "Il Pazzo," combines the traditional Calabrian tarantella with modern American rock, resulting in something that sounds like Tom Waits performing a European weapon dance.
There are a few more ballads on Tempo, but the ballads, too, are not strictly confined to form. "Good Bye" begins as a waltz, recounting the breakup of two lovers, then abruptly changes tone (and time signature), shifting into a looser, more swinging rhythm—as though, by the song's end, the lovers are at last ready to celebrate their newfound freedom.
Algieri sings exclusively in Italian, so without knowing the language, his voice serves as simply another instrument—a sonorous, somewhat raspy instrument—but understanding Mbrascatu's words is not necessary to respond to the sentiment within them. Algieri may have brought the deep and beautiful culture of Southern Italy with him to Portland, but it was in Portland where he found his true voice.