Bobby Previte – Mass (2016)

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feature photo: Kate Previte

The idea of infusing a choral classical concerto from the 15th century with the imposing clamor of heavy metal guitars has sprung from the fertile mind of a certain jazz drummer. Missa Sancti Jacobi is a unified mass cycle composed in the 1400’s by Guillaume Dufay, a groundbreaking work that represented one of the earliest efforts to bring together all the movements of a polyphonic mass. It’s an grand construction rendered just with an 11-voice choir (in this case, the Rose Ensemble conducted by Jordan Sramek) and medieval pipe organ manned by Marco Benevento. But that drummer, Bobby Previte, imagined how much powerful this could be with some present-day amplified guitars.

Indeed, Previte made an album around the idea of taking the term “goth metal” quite literally.

Mass (now on sale via RareNoise Records) is an ambitious, modern re-imagining of Missa Sancti Jacobi, which updates not by extracting all the Middle Age-ness from it, but adding to it with a heavy metal band. That band is anchored by Previte on drums and Reed Mathis on electric bass and by guitars; sometimes many guitars. Stephen O’Malley, mainly, supplemented at various times by Jamie Saft, Don McGreevy, Mike Gamble and Previte himself.

In keeping with Dufay’s ancient concept, don’t expect many guitar solos, the Zeppelin/Sabbath demon “Offering” excepted. There, the feedback squall of O’Malley and the galloping rhythm of Gamble encounter the solemn harmonies of the Rose Ensemble. Benevento returns with some vengeance for the following “Sanctus,” sharing power chords with guitars; the choral parts manage to find its place in the small crevices of space left behind by the cavalcade of organs, drums, bass and a couple of guitars. That Previte figured out how to make it work was perhaps his greatest challenge and his most impressive achievement of this whole venture: bridging a six-century sonic chasm. “Agnus Dei” puts the focus entirely on the voices — the guitars receding entirely — bringing us back to the timeless majesty of intricately layered vocal harmonics.

That 3-song slice of the album demonstrates how Previte selectively pulls the levers at his disposable to alternate bringing some elements to the fore while pushing others to the background, molding the character of each piece in that way. Other instances, as with the opening “Introit,” all of these instruments and voices share equal roles, affecting a synthesized sound print that’s equally funereal and forceful. Previte is also heard foraging around on his kit, punctuated by vocal incantations.

On the other end of the album is “Communion,” where Previte’s Farfisa organ blends smoothly with the choral, but Benevento’s pipe organ signals abrasiveness ahead confirmed by O’Malley’s massively bellowing guitar, that — finally — submerges all signs of antiquity. That is, until Sramek’s ensemble unexpectedly reappears at the end, only to be snuffed out for a final time by an over amplified guitar lick.

In the battle between the 1400’s and the 2000’s, art in the form of uniquely inspired music wins.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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