For millennia the Mediterranean has been the point of meeting and melding of various peoples and cultures: Italic, Iberian, Hellenic, Middle Eastern, North African, Balkan, and more. Historically, ground zero for a good portion of this cultural intermixing has been Southern Italy. Thus it’s apt that Majara, the new music project from Bolognese double bassist Pippi Dimonte, takes its name from the Southern Italian word for an old woman thought to have supernatural powers.
Majara’s sound is both traditional and new at the same time. The group’s instrumentation is certainly traditional—it comprises, in addition to Dimonte’s double bass, nylon-string guitar, played by Francesco Paolino; clarinet and bass clarinet, played by Marco Brucato; and pandeiro, a smallish, tambourine-like hand drum, played by Emiliano Alessandrini. These voices are what one might expect to hear in a band of village musicians—albeit highly accomplished ones. What’s new about Majara is the way these voices are assembled and the material they play. Dimonte, who composed and arranged all the pieces on the album, has taken odd-metered time signatures influenced by Middle Eastern and Persian rhythms and put them together with melodies that, despite their sophistication, retain the flavor of folk modes. This flavor comes out most notably during passages where Dimonte counters Brucato’s lines with bowed bass. Like the American group Oregon, Majara play a kind of acoustic folk-jazz with an eclectic attitude toward sounds and sources, but with a more regionally-defined focus. And in doing so, they’ve come up with a soulful, pan-Mediterranean music of their own.