Giuseppe Paradiso & Meridian 71

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Boston’s popular cross-cultural music project Meridian 71, led by the versatile Italian drummer and composer Giuseppe Paradiso, to release 3rd album Parallel Dimensions

Meridian 71 is a cross-cultural music project created and led by Giuseppe Paradiso since 2012. The project name comes from Boston’s longitude: the 71st meridian that passes precisely through the eastern part of the city. Parallel Dimensions (Ubuntu Music, drops April 15 2022) the band’s third album, features original compositions by Giuseppe and performances by an eclectic and multicultural ensemble of well-established Boston-based musicians. 

“Boston is the location where I met musicians from different parts of the globe. We are deeply connected and spoke the common language of music together”, reflects Paradiso. “It felt like I had known for a long time that at some point in my life I would have met musicians just like them, way before moving across the Atlantic in 2008. Meridian 71 became the creative laboratory and space to develop this music.”

Meridian 71 is more than a conceptual band; it’s a dynamic and ever-changing musical project with a revolving lineup and a driving vision to use music and sound to inspire, bridge cultures and create links within different traditions. 

Blending music genres that range from jazz and improvised music to Mediterranean and West African styles, Parallel Dimensions features Giuseppe on drums, percussion, electronics & vocals; Mark Zaleski on alto & soprano sax/clarinet; Utar Artun on piano & keys; Phil Sargent on electric guitar; James Hazlewood-Dale on upright, electric and fretless bass; and Malick Ngom on West African sabar drums, percussion and vocals.

The first single from Parallel Dimensions, the groove-heavy “Tony” (Feb 18) brings the cultures together in an instantly recognizable sense. Inspired by and written for the late Fela Kuti drummer Tony Allen, “Tony” is obviously informed by young Giuseppe checking out his family’s and friends’ African music records- but even better lessons in that vast genre come from the decade Giuseppe has spent drumming for a Nigerian church. “It’s very fun and enlightening to play in such a context, especially for a drummer, because you have to have a groove,” he says with a laugh. “It’s a learning experience, especially when you have to combine your drumming with the dancing of the people in the congregation- you have people moving with your rhythms, and that’s always a very deep and powerful experience for me. I have always been inspired by and learnt so much from the relationship between dance and percussion over the years.”

“Tony” opens with an overdriven bass line that sounds almost like it’s lifted straight from a Tony Allen tune, while Giuseppe’s muscular drumming patterns deftly underpin Wayne Shorter-ish harmonies and a lithe, flowing melody. One can hear the drums reacting to and pushing the soloists to new heights in this pure fusion of world & jazz. Capped by an energetic drum/percussion duet, “Tony” is an exciting and highly danceable tune that Tony Allen himself would have sounded right at home on.

The ‘interesting times’ that we as a society currently find ourselves in are reflected in Parallel Dimensions’ second single “Memories of the Future” (March 18). “I began composing “Memories of the Future” during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic in April 2020,” reflects Giuseppe. “This was a time when many events were unfolding uninterruptedly almost on a daily basis. It felt like everything was going to fall apart, and we were being bombarded with news. So imagine yourself in 15, 20 years, having these memories of being inundated with so much information every day. It’s a moment I wanted to capture.”

Classical sounding in its exposition, “Memories of the Future” is a studied contrast between tradition and modernity. Utar Arun’s delicate piano opening sets up Hazlewood-Dale’s bowed upright bass melody that blends effortlessly with the ensemble and creates a beautifully serene mood that evokes pre-pandemic recital hall concertizing. Just as you’re lulled into a sense of relaxation it all comes tumbling down into tense group improvisation, and those media voices break into our mood. Despite the return of the opening material, the world is never the same.  

Parallel Dimensions’ opening track, and the album’s focus track, is named for the Japanese philosophy of continuous change for the better. Kaizen (April 15) also signifies Giuseppe’s personal search through his mother’s Romani heritage, which he suspected was the reason that odd time signatures come naturally to him. “I’ve been doing a lot of research about the whole history of the Roma people, these nomads who started in India and went all the way to France. It’s so wide and deep, with so many different styles of music that came from generations of living in different countries,” muses Paradiso. “’Kaizen’ starts with this look at my roots, and moves along until over the course of the song we arrive at my present day reality.”

Evoking the Eastern origins of the Roma, Kaizen opens with a muezzin-like call over a drone- before quickly opening up into relentlessly shifting grooves roiling under a buoyant and playful melody, flawlessly performed by Zaleski and Sargent’s tight unison. After Artun and Sargent trade solos, the ensemble hurtles towards the future with only a brief glance back.

Although born of a pandemic Parallel Dimensions offers the feeling of hope and optimism that fills the human spirit. It’s a product of multiculturalism filtered through life in one of the oldest cities in America during a society altering pandemic that can be the salve that soothes the weary soul. A fusion of music, to be sure, but also a fusion of something intangible that makes us want to keep creating together in these ‘interesting times’. 

Parallel Dimensions will be released in digital and CD formats on April 15 2022 on the Ubuntu Music label, with distribution through The Orchard.

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