Album Review: Isle of Magic by Mop Mop

The first quarter of 2013 saw a slew of interesting releases. The latin vibes are definitely flowing through the global sound waves. However, nothing stands out quite as much as the world jazz, funk masters, Mop Mop with their latest album, Isle of Magic out on Agogo Records. Now, you all may already know I’m a pretty hard judge when it comes to Latin and Afro-Caribbean tinged productions, but this is the first truly trans-tropical album to make me smile from start to finish. My resounding favoritism towards Isle of Magic is probably due to the simple fact that this isn’t actually a Latin album at all; it’s a modern Italian funk bands’ take on African rhythms which just feels more Caribbean than anything I’ve heard in a while. There’s no gushing pop sentiments or universalist attempts here, like on the latest records dropped by Alex d’Cuba or Del Exilio. This album sets out to groove in the funkiest of fashions, with purely instrumental glory produced by the wonderful Andrea Benini.

You can forget about unnecessarily cheesy lyrics or references to Latin stereotypes and boring overexertions of identity here. This is music for music lovers, music for bodies ready to burst into unexpected fits of ritual frenzy. “Let I Go” featuring Trinidadian poet/singer Anthony Joseph is probably the most recognizably dance oriented hit, setting off a hot and hard tone to the album that doesn’t detract, let up or give up the pace. Mop Mop boldly puts their best foot forward and knows you’ll follow, no matter what. “Kamakumba” is a strictly instrumental piece that states the band is here to jam, no messing around. Mop Mop is not going to give you the “Run Around,” sending the beats straight to the heart and head with funk legend Fred Wesley and singer/poet Joseph again on vocals for that number.

The thing that stands out on this first part of the album is the vibraphone. It’s as if I’d forgotten this instrument in my cache of favorite sounds and it somehow was excavated and restored to its romantic playfulness for me alone. How can you not change moods, become elated and overwhelmed with sunny thoughts when you hear such a light and joyous sound? Something happens then, upon arriving at “Phantom Of The Panther” we’re suddenly transported to a mediterranean night, with chiming reminders of this bands’ Italian influences and modern fusion of global sounds. “Heritage” returns to Anthony Joseph with a scat start, and a drum beat that invites ivory elegance and challenging African colonial connotations. Isle of Magic gets smarter and smarter with every verb, reverb and soulful schematic.

“The Golden Bamboo” literally hops off the record into a cowbell clanging mania of optimistic uplift. After, “Loa Chant” featuring Finnish-Egyptian singer, Sara Sayed which slows down the heart racing jumps with her waxy vocals, “Black Ivory” goes back to all instruments and lays it low with a brooding and ominous experimentation, matched only by “Mojomamy” which takes the level or risk and danger plotted on “Black Ivory” and pushes it to another level of extremes. We’re pulled back into a comfortable, but still looming trip on “Damballah”. As if their range of innovation wasn’t wide enough, Mop Mop caps off the album with a trip-hop surprise on “Afro Jojo Part One” and a return to a jazzy flow.

Recorded between Germany and Italy using vintage analog equipment Isle of Magic takes on a voodoo spell of synergistic recordings captured in between Germany and Italy with the aid of Alex Trebo on piano, Pasquale Mirra on vibraphone and marimba for all the jovial moments. Guglielmo Pagnozzi’s clarinette and flute action compliment Johannes Schleiremacher’s baritone sax. Lorenzo Ternelli and Salvatore Lauriola on bass and Danilo Mineo on percussion keep the tempo just right.