Le Tre Sorelle is the debut album from the modern Italian folk group, Alla Boara, set to release on Shifting Paradigm Records on October 21st, 2022. The band features the talents of Amanda Powell (featured soloist with Grammy Award winning Apollo’s Fire) on vocals, Anthony Taddeo on drums and percussion, Dan Bruce (leader of the :Beta Collective) on guitar, Tommy Lehman on trumpet, Clay Colley on accordion and Ian Kinnaman on the bass. Special guests include Jamey Haddad, Michael Ward-Bergeman and Chris Coles.
The leader, Anthony Taddeo, is an accomplished drummer that has been featured on more than 30 albums as a side man. While studying at the New School in New York, he had the incredible honor of working with masters such as Jimmy Cobb, Kendrick Scott, Jane Ira Bloom and Reggie Workman. He has performed alongside artists such as Ron McLure, Camila Meza, John Raymond and Dan Wilson. Of Italian descent, (his father being from Italy) the Italian culture is something that has always fascinated him and given him great pride. But it wasn’t until his final year at the New School that he stumbled upon what would eventually be the spark for Alla Boara.
While doing research for a paper on global music, Taddeo came across field recordings that were recorded by Alan Lomax in 1954. Lomax is a famous American ethnomusicologist and while many are aware of his contributions from the southern United States, few know that he traveled all around Italy for six months recording some of the most obscure folk music in the most rural areas. Taddeo says, “I couldn’t believe that what I was hearing was Italian music. Everything was just so much more diverse and, frankly, more beautiful than anything I had heard or associated with Italian folk music before.” What followed was a 10 year journey of studying the language, culture and traditional music of Italy that culminated into the creation of Alla Boara.
The first two tracks of Le Tre Sorelle reveal much of the story and mission behind the project. “Alla Boara” features an instrument not readily associated with Italian folk music, the jaw harp. An improvisation between voice and jaw harp evokes the harmonic minor sounds that one would more likely expect to find in Greece or the Middle East. Quickly joining in are special guests Michael Ward-Bergeman on accordion and Chris Coles on soprano saxophone and effects. The song is based on a traditional call and response song that was used for field work. Following improvisations and compositional twists the track winds up in the fast paced triplet rhythms of the Tarantella, the strumming of the guitar matching the energetic rhythms of the tamburello drum. The song climaxes into a soaring solo by Chris Coles, his angular lines augmented by the use of his effects pedals.
The title track, “Le Tre Sorelle”, begins with an actual sample of a field recording from Alan Lomax. The story is about a young girl who loses her ring in the middle of the sea and asks a fisherman to fish it out for her. The tale is charming and the original performance endearing. Alla Boara’s take retains that same whimsical innocence throughout. Amanda Powell delivers the story effortlessly in a way that bridges the gap between the listener and the language barrier. Toward the end of the track the talents of one more special guest are called upon as Jamey Haddad adds texture with his global percussion pallet that he is so famously known for.
“C’Avanti C’è” was traditionally an olive gatherer’s song that has since been mostly forgotten, now only known by a small few. It underlines both the importance of these field recordings and why this group’s music and mission is so important in keeping it alive. It’s from the Calabrian region of Italy and the band plays a traditional Tammurriata feel for the main groove.
“Fimmene, Fimmene” is a song that is about female empowerment. Throughout the song, that would have been traditionally sung by women field workers, there are warnings about the maltreatment that these women were receiving from their bosses. The piece attempts to demonstrate the strength, struggle and vulnerability that these incredible women might have faced. “Funeral Lament” uses another sample from Alan Lomax’s collection of recordings and highlights a very moving tradition that is still used in central and southern Italy today. The funeral lament is a way of grieving that pre-dates the Roman Empire and would involve a type of song that you would sing to help you work through your grief. This particular lament was sung by a woman that had lost her husband years earlier, but Lomax was able to convince her to record this stirring performance. The emotion is palpable.
“Ballu” is an instrumental piece that transcribed from a polyphonic vocal tradition in Sardenia (a small island off of the West coast of Italy) in which the vocalists timbres are supposed to mimic that of their livestock. Usually sung in groups of four to five men each has a very specific role in the harmony and rhythm. “Som Som” begins with a northern Italian lullaby and is then contrasted with a song from southern Italy that refers to the scarcity of food and poverty felt throughout much of the south. The compositional purpose behind this was to not only display the disparaging contrast between much of northern Italy and southern Italy, but also to remind us that no matter how bleak things get and how dark our world seems to be, we can still sing the lullaby for the next generation. In other words, we as a people can still choose to pass on and believe in the hope that things will continue to get better.
“Mi Me Ne Fon” is the finale to the album and displays the playfulness of not only its composer, but of the lyric itself. It’s an 11 verse song that on the field recording was seemingly being sung in a bar by a group of men who may have already been a few drinks into their evening. In the song, the man is relentlessly trying to pursue a lady that he fancies. The woman continually denies the pursuer and comes up with different excuses such as “I would rather turn into a nun than marry you!” to which the pursuer always has a response such as: “Then I will turn into a priest so that I can listen to your confession.” Throughout the piece the couple goes back and forth until the woman threatens that she would rather die than marry him, he responds by saying, “then I will become an undertaker so that I can burry you!” and she concludes by saying, “Then let’s get a ring and get married!”
The vision of drummer and Cleveland based composer Anthony Taddeo, Alla Boara’s modern arrangements of near-extinct folk songs are surprising, playful, mournful, tender and at times, bewitching. Throughout the album, there are threads of Italian folk music interwoven with improvisation, modern harmonies and feels that are reminiscent of jazz, rock and world music. Le Tre Sorelle aims to bring new life and recognition to this music while also showing that our musical heritage is still a fertile ground for new creative cultivation.