Italian guitarist Marco Cappelli is probably known best—to the extent that he's known at all in his adopted home of the U.S.—as a contemporary classical guitarist, playing the music of composers such as Annie Gosfield, Hans Werner Henze, and Goffredo Petrassi. But he's also invested in improvised music and genre-allergic experimentation, and last year he released a jazz-leaning improvised album with bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Satoshi Takeishi called Les Nuages en France (Mode)—despite the title, there's little overt Django Reinhardt influence. This weekend he makes a rare Chicago appearance with a different and much more unlikely project he calls the Italian Surf Academy.
The cover of the group's debut album, The American Dream (Mode), pictures a pair of nude women carrying a surfboard over their heads. Backed by an electric trio—bassist Luca Lo Bianco and drummer Francesco Cusa, who will also join him Sunday afternoon at the Empty Bottle*—Cappelli tackles vintage Italian soundtracks, including bits of Ennio Morricone's iconic scores for the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone (such as "The Sundown/San Antonio Mission" from the classic The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly) and plenty of music influenced by them. He and his band also cover "Secret Agent Man." The trademark twangy guitars of those Morricone scores were ubiquitous in American surf music (the Ventures, Dick Dale), a coincidence that gives Cappelli's group its name. I've never heard of most of the composers on The American Dream, apart from Morricone and Piero Umiliani; about half of the music was written for films by Italian director Mario Bava, who specialized in horror flicks.
In the liner notes Cappelli is asked why he turned to "surf music," and he jokes, "At some point you just want to make some dough from your music." I doubt this project will make much dough for him; though the arrangements are crisp and propulsive, in most cases the trio states the themes early and then opens up, alternating between knotty improvisation and extended, proggy solos. Below you can listen to their version of Riz Ortolani's "Tiffany Sequence" from the 1967 Sergio Grieco film Tiffany Memorandum.
Marco Cappelli's Italian Surf Academy, "Tiffany Sequence"
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Later on Sunday night a reunited version of San Francisco punk band the Avengers plays the Abbey Pub, one of only three shows on a mini tour of the U.S. The Avengers played Chicago for the first time ever in 2006, and the current dates are in support of the recent Water Records reissue of the band's only full-length—a self-titled record also The Pink Album, which was cobbled together from several sessions during the band's 1977-'79 existence and released posthumously in 1983. It's never been released on CD, though several collections of rare and live recordings have. The original album includes stone-cold classics like "We Are the One" and "The American in Me," one of the best-ever indictments of blind patriotism (and one that only grows more potent as the years pass). The reissue includes liner notes by Greil Marcus and a disc of oddities and live material, all of which underlines the band's power and style. The reunited Avengers lineup consists of singer Penelope Houston and guitarist Greg Ingraham (the two remaining original members) plus bassist Joel Reader and drummer Luis Illades. Opening the show is R. Ring, a new band featuring Kelley Deal (Breeders). Below you can check out a version of the Avengers' "Teenage Rebel" included on the bonus CD—it was recorded in a rehearsal studio in 1977.