Roberto Cassani – Ansema We Stand: Album Review

An intriguing fusion of cultures from Roberto Cassani – Lombardy and Scotland stand together.

Release Date:  2nd April 2021

Label: Independent Release

Formats: CD / Digital

I’m so glad that I’ve heard this one!  Roberto Cassani has put together an intriguing album that fuses the language of Lombardy with the music of Scotland. The result is a riveting, highly entertaining listen, expertly played and bursting with a humour that shines through one of the most impenetrable language barriers that you’re ever likely to come across.

Roberto Cassani is a renowned double bass player who has done session work all over the world.  Born and raised in the town of Rivolta d’Adda in Lombardy, he’s been settled in rural Perthshire for over 20 years now.  His friends and mentors include the great Italian jazz bassist Giovanni Tommaso and the legendary Danny Thompson, along with a plethora of some of the best Scottish musicians around.  He’s also the owner of a versatile, soothing voice which he uses to great effect in the songs that comprise Ansema We Stand. 

When Roberto first arrived in Scotland, to work as a nurse, he would sit in at local venues with his acoustic guitar and sing folk songs.  Recognising the comic potential of his heavily accented English, he developed a reputation as a comic singer and played numerous festivals, including several appearances at the Edinburgh Fringe. 

The word ‘ansema’ means ‘together’ in the Lombardy dialect of Rivoltano.  Rivoltano is an endangered minority language that conveys a distinct musicality and Roberto has identified a compatibility between that language and the instruments and music of his adopted Scotland.  Ansema We Stand brings together the language and music of these two geographically small but culturally huge areas, and the effect, I have to say, is stunning, and unlike anything else I’ve ever heard.  Of course, it helps that Roberto has been able to call on the services of s string of world-class musicians for assistance with this groundbreaking project, and his double bass and vocals are accompanied, to tremendous effect, by Anna Massie on guitars, fiddle and mandolin, John Somerville on accordion, Steve Fivey on drums and percussion, Ross Ainslie on pipes and whistles, Hamish Napier on piano and flute and Greg Lawson on violin.

The album gets off to a delightful start with the title track.  Roberto’s bass rumbles in the foreground whilst the accompanying instruments hover lightly behind – it’s an appetizing foretaste of the treats to come.  Evviva (which I think means ‘Cheers!’) is a light, jazzy, comedic number with a wonderful, dancy, instrumental break and is a perfect international tonic for these stay-at-home times.  The pace is slowed for L’Ada, a soothing, relaxing minor-key waltz, built around a bass and accordion duet and with some fine fiddle playing thrown in for good measure.

Camion Militari (Military Trucks) an outstanding tune with an Eastern European feel, dripping with wonderful gypsy violin passages.  It starts life as a martial tune but gets gradually freer as it progresses – a real album highlight.  L’Arcobaleno – which I think means ‘Rainbow’ – is another highlight; a beautiful song with poetic-sounding lyrics that I’d love to be able to understand, all set to a pastoral Scottish air.  And, before there’s time to draw breath, we’re into Eroi in Corsica, a vibrant Scottish instrumental that’s packed with presence and which builds in urgency as it goes along.

Mpestada Quartentena, which I’m guessing is a Rivoltana expression of disgust or frustration at the COVID lockdown, is another great tune.  The semi-spoken lyrics hint at humour and the tune, which would fit perfectly to a Burns poem, gets to be quite anthemic once the pipes cut in.  The jazzy, calypso-flavoured La Santissima is another instrumental and this time it’s Roberto’s bass playing that takes centre stage on a simple, highly enjoyable, tune.  The penultimate track, Delina, takes us into doo-wop territory, with a twist of Scotland added for the intro and the bridge, before things are brought to a close with An Basi’, a song that features Roberto on his own, singing a bluesy song with (one suspects) irreverent lyrics, to the backing of his plucked double bass.  It’s a fine ending to a fabulously entertaining album.

Ansema We Stand represents what is almost certainly the first time that the Rivoltano dialect has been captured and celebrated in this way and Roberto has managed to achieve this cultural breakthrough in a respectful and honest way that conveys the musicality and humour of his native tongue.  The album was recorded at GloWorm Studios in Glasgow and produced by Andrea Gobbi, with some of the recordings done remotely due to lockdown restrictions.  Whatever the obstacles that had to be overcome, Roberto, Andrea and the musicians have all done an excellent job.  This one is highly recommended.

Not on the album, but get a feel for the lighter side of Roberto Cassani with this video of him performing his song, Man Flu, here:

Roberto Cassani Online: Website/Facebook/ YouTube

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