Tutto il Mondo
Indie legend Mike Watt sure has had an interesting career to date. After first cementing himself as a D.I.Y. hero with seminal jazz-punk extraordinaires The Minutemen (and later fireHOSE), he has had a resurgent last few years. Ascending to the enviable role of bassist for The Stooges’ reunion tours—at the request of the late Ron Asheton, no less—he has returned to perhaps a more familiar format: an intensely interesting trio with two talented Italian musicians named Stefano Pilia and Andrea Belfi under the moniker, il sogno del marinaio (translated “The Sailor’s Dream”).
La Busta Gialla, at turns jazzy, jammy and groovy, predictably bears many of the Watt trademarks. There is, of course, a workmanlike sense of craft here, but it is tempered with a gleefully freewheelin’ attitude that allows a track like “Funanori Jig,” with its wonderful ringing guitar lines, to break out into a wild Caribbean-style rhythm ramble for a few moments, then inevitably return without so much as a blink. And though his bass is clearly the center of this band’s musical universe, Watt’s beefy lines never seek to overshadow or, more importantly, undermine the music’s purposeful and propulsive qualities. To the contrary, a large part of this propulsive quality is due to the excellent performances of Belfi (drums) and Pilia (guitar), who are given ample opportunity to shine as Watt holds down the fort with simple, ingenious funk riffs.
There is a nice range of moods, sounds and structures on the album, as well. “Partisan Song,” with its majestic horn section lines, sounds almost like Arthur Lee and Love’s Forever Changes for the modern era. Once the groovy weirdness of “The Tiger Princess” comes along, with its Watt-recited vocal—not to mention the very Watt-like conclusion, “I pop awake on the deck, finding my fingers full…of fur”—you get a reminder of not only Watt’s flannel-dyed sense of humor, but his almost Hessian brand of literary mysticism. These two tracks, balanced against something like the seven-minute “Messed-up Machine,” which rides an understated, though entrenched bass line while the guitar and drums improvise bleep-bloop lines and percussive rolls respectively, serve to reveal the album’s substantial range.
Though all the underlying sweeps of Watt’s grungy, road-tested influence are present throughout La Busta Gialla, all three musicians maintain an unshakable focus to deliver something not only fresh and solidly performed, but interesting and supremely entertaining to the ear. Their music transcends the normal obstacles one thinks of when the word, “collaboration,” appears in a review and, more importantly, escapes the clichéd trappings of “legendary musician so-and-so’s newest project” to instead reveal a succinct and focused document by an adventurous trio of talented musicians. If that sounds at all familiar to you, it is perhaps no accident: Between this present venture and his classic output with The Minutemen, that other trio, Watt has traveled the world and back.