ALESSIO BONDì – Nivuru (800A Records 800A/020)

NivuruAfter the sunshine splash of Alessio Bondì’s first album, Sfardo, the title of his second outing, Nivuru (Black), gives a hefty clue that things are about to take a darker turn. Although still singing in his native Sicilian, Bondì’s musical palette has greatly diversifed, taking on influences from travels in Africa and South America.

Right from the opening bars, the difference between albums is obvious, with the lustfully sinuous funk of ‘Ghidara’ (‘Guitar’) giving way to the African rhythms that weave through ‘Dammi Una Vasata’ (‘Kiss Me’).

Slowing things down, ‘Si Fussi Fimmina’ (If I Were A Woman’) has a Mick Hucknall-esque vocal that, just as the extended bending notes start to wear thin, is redeemed by Alessandro Presti’s delightfully smoky trumpet. The languidly heart-broken ‘Café’ with its Spanish-sounding guitar, slurred strings and woodwind flourishes suddenly twists – a kind of jazz voodoo shifts the mood into something altogether more menacing.

Where ‘Savutu’ (‘Jump’) has an 80s funk vibe, ‘Un Favuri’ (‘A Favour’) begins like a sudden, breathless awakening from a nightmare. This slow, introspective song slowly builds up momentum, only to falter into a tentative guitar finale. African percussion beats and a falling woodwind motif begin ‘L’amuri Miu Pi Tia’ (‘My Love For You’) before it surrenders to a full-on brass and handclaps fiesta.

‘Puddicinu A Luna’ (‘Little Chick Under The Full Moon’), with its gently plucked guitar is perhaps most like Bondì’s previous work, but even here he can’t resist adding a waltzing coda that leads straight into final song ‘Nivi Nivura’ (‘Black Snow’). This slinky, slightly Latiny song gains an additional intensity in its second half, largely due to the Oscar-worthy dramatically impassioned vocals.

With Nivuru, Bondì’s opted for a much fatter sound, with a more global feel, as if trying to cram in everything he’s assimilated on his travels. His diverse musical influences flicker throughout every song (which are generally longer than before), so that the overall effect becomes rather overwhelming and threatens to swamp the strong Sicilian presence. If Nivuru’s not wholly successful, for this listener at least, it is an intriguing progression and Bondì remains a name to keep an eye on.

There’s a rare opportunity to catch Bondì’s bold Sicilian-based global music live in the UK, at Servant Jazz Quarters in London on 31 March.

Su O’Brien

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‘Ghidara’  – official video: