Bassist Carlo Mombelli spells out encounters with Angels and Demons: CD Review

This is a story about a search and an encounter, a wandering to find a bio-soul betwixt the angelic and demonic offerings in life. Mombelli’s compositions, heard on a vinyl recording released in December 2018, are haunting because of his findings which are emotional mixed with sensitivity, resolving to the sadness of displaced people’s uprootedness, yet suggesting there’s a mutual belongingness that we all can find and build amongst us. His creativity has wrestled with these anomalies for years, as he has travelled, educated, and co-created in many lands and institutions of Europe, America, and South Africa, his motherland.

Now based in Johannesburg where he also teaches at the University of Witswaterand and mentors students in Switzerland, his like-minded core band members help provide a framework for discovery in Angels and Demons: pianist Kyle Shepherd who frequents Mombelli’s sonic haunts; guitarist Keenen Ahrends; and whispy drummer Jonno Sweetman The pace is set in the opening song, ‘In Search of the Holy Grail’ with Shepherd’s Bach-ish piano runs and Mombelli’s eerie vocals behind Ahrends’ guitar conversation. Then the ear moves from this spiritual groove to ‘Pulses in the Centre of Silence’ which continues an emotional exploration of sound. It is also the title of Mombelli’s new book which presents how he has created his compositions.

Mombelli likes to creep around the edges. A classical feel emerges as cello strings are bowed in ‘Glissando’ by guest artist, Susan Mouton, behind a head-held-low piano. One listens carefully as this story unfolds oh so slowly and thoughtfully.

Ahrends shows his true grace and style on this album while Mombelli maintains a subtle lower register pace. In ‘Athens’, the piano chips into this repetitive beat held. Mombelli is searching to find his father here, after several decades’ absence. One hears perhaps a hesitancy of encountering, trepidation with the unknown, particularly as his bass maintains a rhythmic drone while Ahrend’s subtle guitar talks throughout.

Keenan Ahrends-credit Gregory Franz

This reunion of father/son becomes a renewal, of capturing without clinging. I found this song one of the most enthralling Mombelli-styled arrangements. It’s also the longest track on the album.

In ‘The Spiral Staircase’, there’s a wailing and yearning as Mombelli’s bass sets a steady repetitive hum. But confusion sets in. It’s like plunging into a long, deep well of uncertainty, enhanced by a rarely heard bass clarinet of guest artist, Janus van der Merwe. Further questioning follows with “Like a Mouse In a Maze” featuring Cartwright playing Bach-gone-mad improvised runs that deliberately hit ‘wrong’ notes, something tolerated in improvised music. Fortunately, that scattered tone doesn’t last long as his piano melts into a soulful ballad-type ‘Children of Aleppo’ with Mombelli’s underlying sad pronouncements about a pathetic world gone wrong for children (and adults). One is surprised by the contemplative nature of technique which, because of the subject theme, would expect to be cacophonic and aggressively unpleasant. Unlike entry of the next songs on the album which are almost immediate, there is a much relieved pause after ‘Children of Aleppo’ finishes, allowing for reflection, deep breathing, and a moment of much needed silence in this expressive album.

Having caught one’s breath, the baroque orchestral feel in ‘In the End We all Belong’, which is a more melodic, less frantic piece, suggests some resolution is finalising Mombelli’s spiritual search for those angels to counter the always pervasive demons.

Loop pedal repeats of the bass cast an illusory image in ‘The Ghost of Norcia’ and its ‘Part 2’ which ends the album. There is a haunting symbolism here as though those demons, seemingly revisited, are finally outcast. But are they?

This album leaves one wondering. Is the spiritual lost-and-found journey of life real or ever final? Listen carefully.

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