Trip Mike Stern Heads Up International This album from veteran American guitarist Mike Stern is the first since his accident last year when he tripped outside his Manhattan apartment (hence the title), broke both his arms and suffered nerve damage to his right hand. Subsequent surgery was only partly successful, in that Stern apparently needs glue to grip his pick. Still, his extraordinary technical facility is intact. He came to notice as a member of Miles Davis’s “comeback” band in 1981, when the great trumpeter appeared at the Kool Jazz Festival in New York after a five-year sabbatical. A fusion master, Stern shows in his 11 original compositions that he has lost none of his ability to create a storm in the high-energy rock vehicles that are an important part of this album. But if the music here were limited to what has been described as his “scorched-earth distortion-laced licks”, Trip would be very onedimensional. Now 64, Stern enlivens the album with laid-back tunes, featuring understatement and simple lyricism. Take, for example, Emilia and I Believe You, on which his wife, Leni Stern — a distinguished guitarist with her own international career — plays ghoni, an instrument from Mali. These lovely tunes reward repeated listenings. All compositions feature a small group enlivened by one or two superb guest players: trumpeters Randy Brecker and Wallace Roney; tenor saxophonists Bob Franceschini and Bill Evans (the latter another Miles Davis alumnus from 1981); and great drummers including Return to Forever’s Lenny White, and Dennis Chambers. There are other guests, too numerous to mention. Finally, Stern’s compositions are uniformly clever and catchy, vehicles not only for high-energy jazzrock fusion but also for straight-ahead robustly swinging tunes in four. Veteran collectives Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino and Officina Zoe have done much to popularise tarantella and drag the frenzied folk dance music of southern Italy into the 21st century. Divergent new albums from the genre’s flag-bearers should promote further interest in the trancelike ancestral pizzica tarantata rhythms that, as local lore has it, constitute the antidote to tarantula bites. The willingness of these enduring bands to stretch the boundaries of the traditional music has been admirable. Although Officina Zoe, formed in 1993, pours punk intensity and southern Italian passion into its pieces on Live in India, it is the senior band’s Canzoniere that adopts a more adventurous approach. CGS’s 19th long-player, part-recorded in New York, has contemporary edge. That’s a legacy of collaborating with American and European songwriters who have worked with the likes of Bruno Mars, Steely Dan, Sting and Coldplay, and of blending standard tarantella instrumentation of tambourines, tamburello frame drums, violin and accordion with electric guitars and programming. Pizzica De Sira and Intra La Danza come closest to conventional tarantella, though Lu Giustacofane is reportedly based on an ethnographic field recording. Elsewhere, the trad influence is more tacit than tangible. In Quannu Te Visciu, a spoken-word loop provides the trance element. Cameos from gun English guitarist Justin Adams and American trumpeter Michael Leonhart are respective add-ons to Aiora and Iento. Another guest, Piers Faccini, takes sultry lead vocals in Subbra Sutta, a song that style-wise links southern Italy with south India. There are no manifestations of subcontinental influence or indeed any cross-cultural pollination in Officina Zoe’s Live in India, an album recorded in Mumbai, Delhi, Jaipur, Udaipur and Bangalore. While its last release was an ambient concept album based on the Mediterranean Sea, this album — a companion work to 2007 set Live in Japan — packs plenty of pizzica punch, protracted passages featuring intense acoustic playing from the band and searing singing from Officina Zoe’s extraordinary lead vocalist, Cinzia Marzo. The 14-minute centrepiece, Mamma Sirena, is a bewitching epic that generates enough energy to fuel a nuclear plant. Clocking in at close to nine minutes, Cu Li Suspiri, and the eight minutes of Don Pizzica, driven by accordion and fiddle locked in tandem with triple-time tambourines and pounding tamburellos, are equally mesmerising. Even numbers that start quite sedately, such as Santu Paulo, wind up as frenetic trance dances.