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Robert Castelli

Boom Quartet


by Ian Mann

September 06, 2010


A muscular but intelligent brand of fusion and funk.

Robert Castelli

“Boom Quartet”

Robert Castelli is an American born drummer and composer. Of Italian extraction, he now lives in Austria where this self released album was recorded back in 2007. Castelli recently featured at the 2010 Brecon Jazz Festival playing an enjoyable early morning set at Theatr Brycheiniog with the UK version of the Boom Quartet featuring Nicolas Meier on guitar, Dave O’Higgins on saxophones and Patrick Bettison on bass. A couple of tunes from this album, “The Cat’s Meow” and “African Dance”, were included in the Brecon set but the bulk of the material came from the pen of Meier. A full review of this performance can be found in our “Saturday at Brecon” feature.

“Boom Quartet”, the album features Castelli’s Austrian group with Tom Muller on saxophone, Mike Scharf on guitar and with the mysterious Struzi combining the duties of bassist and recording engineer. All nine pieces are composed by members of the group with the predominant musical style being a muscular but intelligent brand of fusion and funk.

The album opens with Castelli’s rousing “African Dance”, the tune that closed the set at Brecon. With its infectious township derived grooves it’s an attention grabbing opener featuring powerful tenor sax from Muller, authentic sounding African guitar from Scharf and the propulsive but supple grooves of Castelli and Struzi.

“Lovely 16” by Scharf combines funk and blues elements with r’n'b style tenor from Muller, funky electric bass from Struzi plus surging rock style guitar from the composer, the whole anchored by Castelli’s flexible drumming.

Muller’s “Blonde” is a beautifully controlled ballad performance featuring plangent saxophone, shimmering guitar and purring electric bass. Castelli’s delicately detailed performance demonstrates that there’s far more to his playing than just laying down a groove.

Having said that his own “Lumps For Humpty” puts the quartet firmly back into funk territory on an exuberant workout fuelled by Struzi’s electric bass and featuring a powerful rock influenced solo by Scharf followed by some equally high octane sax blowing from Muller. The pace slackens momentarily during Struzi’s fluid solo but mostly it’s heads down all the way.

Also by Castelli “Temporary Insanity” inserts snippets of speech into another funk fest with Scharf’s feverish guitar and Muller’s heavily manipulated sax featuring above Castelli and Struzi’s in the pocket grooves.

Muller’s “Psychology” offers some intriguing dynamic contrasts as brutal rock passages alternate with sweeter, subtly funky sections. Its one of the most ambitious tracks on the album and the chameleon like nature of the piece works well. Very impressive.

Castelli’s “The Cat’s Meow” figured in the repertoire at Brecon where it was very well received. It’s an appropriately slinky ballad with solos for smoky tenor sax, lithe guitar and Struzi’s gently growling bass. The whole thing has a distinctly feline quality with Castelli typically sure footed behind the drums.

Guitarist Scharf’s second piece “Blue 13” is a brisk excursion into funk and rock territory with the guitarist wigging out over the rhythm section’s powerful, swinging, grooves. Muller responds with some powerful sax wailing on this enjoyable slab of energy.

The album closes with Castelli’s “Decisions, Decisions”. The timing of fourteen minutes plus listed on the CD cover disguises the fact that after a period of silence “Decisions” is actually followed an alternative, funkier version of “African Dance”, a kind of secret track if you will. The emphasis is more on the funk than on the African elements with each member of the quartet, including Castelli himself soloing at length.

“Decisions” itself clocks in at about five minutes and features the quartet’s hard hitting funk sound. A catchy hook and solid grooves frame powerful solos from Muller and Scharf with the two also linking powerfully on the unison sections. Castelli’s own performance catches the ear as he gives himself licence to roam in the tune’s closing sections, the piece ending with a solo drum outro.

“Boom Quartet” is an enjoyable album that skilfully blends jazz, funk and rock in a thoroughly convincing manner. Call it fusion if you must but this is lean, hungry, hard hitting music; there’s none of the saccharine “smooth jazz” tendencies that mar so much of the music in this area of the jazz spectrum.

Born into a drumming family (Castelli’s father and uncle were both pro drummers) Robert started playing at a very early age. Despite his obvious chops Castelli is an undemonstrative player, he serves the groove and the tune and provides a solid platform for the soloists with both Muller and Scharf acquitting themselves well.

There’s nothing particularly profound or innovative about the music on “Boom Quartet” but Castelli and his colleagues have come up with a set of accessible tunes with strong melodies and equally infectious grooves. They execute these with skill and a refreshing lack of superfluous adornment. This is a warm, unpretentious album with much to commend it.

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