by Ian Mann
December 01, 2020
Castelli's undoubted ‘way with a groove’ helps to push the soloists to new heights on a set of compositions that stir other elements, notably from Africa & Brazil, into the broadly fusion-esque style.
Robert Castelli and Boom!
“Party at One World Plaza”
Robert Castelli – drums, compositions, Gilles Estoppey – keyboards, Dani Perez – guitar, Emilio Martin – bass
Robert Castelli is an American drummer, band-leader and composer of Italian heritage, who has been based in Europe for a number of years.
His music first came to my attention in 2010 when he led a version of his long running Boom Quartet at that year’s Brecon Jazz Festival. He was joined on that occasion by guitarist Nicolas Meier, saxophonist Dave O’Higgins and bassist Patrick Bettison. Robert and I talked after the gig and have remained in sporadic contact ever since.
At that time Castelli was living in Austria and I subsequently reviewed two Boom Quartet recordings, beginning with “Boom Quartet” itself, a studio set featuring the Austrian musicians Tom Muller (sax), Mike Scharf (guitar) and the mysteriously named Struzi (bass), the latter also acting as recording engineer. Review here;
I later reviewed a live recording by another version of the Boom Quartet documented at the Porgy & Bess jazz club in Vienna. This line up featured predominately fresh material and a line up comprised of saxophonist Sebastian Grimus, guitarist Roland Stonek and bassist Hannes Steif. Besides leading from behind the kit Castelli also enjoyed a brief cameo on acoustic guitar in a flamenco flavoured duet with Stonek.
My account of this recording can be viewed here;
Fast forward to 2020 and Castelli is now resident in Spain, having re-located to Barcelona after several years of living in Austria. His latest quartet, now simply called Boom!, is a truly international line up, featuring three other musicians currently based in Barcelona. Guitarist Dani Perez is originally from Argentina and keyboard player Gilles Estoppey from Switzerland. The only Spaniard in the group is Emilio Martin, who hails from Gran Canaria.
Castelli’s music has always veered towards the funk and fusion end of the jazz spectrum and this new group is no exception. However improvisation also plays an important role in his creative process, an aspect of his music making that is thrown into even sharper relief in the live environment.
The quartet’s new studio album features six fresh Castelli compositions, presumably written specifically for this band. For me, it’s unusual to hear a Castelli group without a saxophone, but if anything the range of the band has been extended with Estoppey deploying an impressively wide array of keyboard sounds, ranging from acoustic and electric piano through organ to different types of synthesiser. Allied to guitar, electric bass and the leader’s own drums it makes for a fascinating and beguiling mix.
The album commences with the Latin-esque flavourings of “Vamos”. Here intricate, tightly knit guitar and keyboard exchanges are underpinned by Castelli’s busy, clipped drum grooves. In conjunction with Martin the leader’s crisp drumming helps to propel the solos of Estoppey and Perez. The Swiss deploys a mix of electric and acoustic piano sounds and he’s followed by the Argentinian’s nimbly picked electric guitar. There is also a drum feature for Castelli towards the close of the piece. It all makes for a satisfying and energising start.
“Your Lucky Number” introduces a funky, organ driven sound with Castelli’s shuffling drum grooves fuelling Estoppey’s Hammond explorations. Perez adds choppy, funk style rhythm guitar, complemented by Martin’s agile bass lines.
“Floatin’” again features the combination of organ and guitar, with Estoppey also adding a dash of synthesiser to the mix. Perez’s soaring guitar solo blends rock, jazz and blues elements in a manner that is sometimes reminiscent of John Scofield. Meanwhile Martin comes to the fore with a passage of fluid, dexterous electric bass.
As he has so amply demonstrated on this and other recordings Castelli is a master of laying down a groove and encouraging a soloist. However there is also a more subtle and sympathetic side to his playing and composing. This is reflected in the ballad “For The Fallen”, where his delicate, almost subliminal brush work underscores the fragile keyboard and guitar textures. As the music gently gathers momentum Perez’s guitar solo is variously reminiscent of Pat Metheny or Bill Frisell. Meanwhile Estoppey adopts an almost orchestral approach via his deployment of a variety of keyboard sounds. We also hear a beautifully liquid and lyrical electric bass solo from Martin before guitar and synth dovetail in the closing stages of the piece. In many ways this is an atypical piece for Castelli, but it is one that reveals his growing maturity as a composer. For me, this represents an unexpected album highlight.
The title track is a suitably joyous blend of funk and Afro-beat influences featuring the leader’s crisp hi hat driven grooves and Perez’s choppy, West African style guitar. The solos from Estoppey on electric piano and Perez on guitar meld into each other in a manner that seems wholly analogous with the title. Towards the close Castelli delivers a dynamic drum feature, spurred on by Perez’s rousing power chords.
The album concludes with the celebratory “Samba Wamba Bamba” with its breezy samba rhythms and spirited guitar and keyboard exchanges. Solos come from Estoppey on electric piano and Perez on guitar, and again there’s a closing drum feature as Castelli trades phrases with Estoppey.
Following his move to Barcelona Castelli has been fortunate to assemble such a talented group of musicians. With the obvious exception of the leader these musicians were all new names to me, but I was highly impressed with all of them.
All three are skilled and highly versatile players, who benefit from having a musician of Castelli’s experience and authority behind them. The drummer’s undoubted ‘way with a groove’ helps to push the soloists to new heights on a set of compositions that stir other elements, notably from Africa and Brazil, into the broadly fusion-esque style. There’s jazz, rock, funk and blues in the mix too, and whilst there’s nothing radical here it’s a very energising and satisfying listen.
Fans who purchase the studio album will also be entitled to a bonus live recording by the same quartet, documented at the Jamboree jazz club in Barcelona on 29th January 2020, shortly before the first Covid lockdown.
The live recording includes alternative versions of “Vamos”, “Your Lucky Number”, “Floatin’” “Party at One World Plaza” and “Samba Wamba Bamba”.
To my ears these tunes benefit from the frisson provided by the live environment, with the occasional tweak to the studio arrangement and more expansive and dynamic solos.
There are also two tunes not included on the studio recording.
Introduced by drums and guitar and with Estoppey featuring on organ “Big Nick” has something of a ‘jam band’ feeling about it as the guitar and organ lock horns, with Castelli a veritable whirlwind of activity behind the kit. Later there are extended solos from guitar and organ, with Perez liberally sprinkling his guitar feature with quotes. Martin’s bass solo features him on the acoustic version of the instrument, and there’s something of a feature for Castelli towards the close. Boom Quartet’s version of this rarely heard John Coltrane tune take its inspiration from the arrangement by Tony Williams’ Lifetime.
Meanwhile an arrangement of the Ornette Coleman composition “Ramblin’”, introduced by Castelli at the drums, conjures up images of the wide open skies of the American west via its twanging, sometimes stratospheric guitar and spiralling synths.
Overall this studio / live combination represents an exciting, value for money package with plenty of fine music on offer.
“Party at One World Plaza” is available via Castelli’s Bandcamp page. Link here;