Of its many beauties, one of music’s most alluring features is its ability to overwhelm our senses. Becoming fully entranced by a recording is something that happens only occasionally, but when it does—well, that’s why a lot of us are in this business.
One need not chase those cherished moments when listening to Canzoniere by the Italian group Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino, aka CGS. Overwhelm comes in waves when listening to this new 12-song set from one of world music’s most innovative artists. What you hear is classic and futuristic, ancient and advanced, liberating and engrossing—songs you can fall instantly in love with.
The group’s roots date back to 1975, when it was founded by Rina and Daniele Durante, in the Italian province of Lecce. In 2007, he handed over leadership of CGS to his son, violinist, percussionist and composer, Mauro Durante.
From there, Mauro reformed CGS into a seven-piece band—with a dancer—performing a contemporary version of southern Italy’s traditional “Pizzica” style of music and dance. The group has come to be recognized as Italy’s leading and longest-standing traditional music ensemble.
NYC-based music producer/arranger/engineer Joe Mardin had the hookup on CGS through Eric Beall, an old friend who is also the band’s New York-based publisher. Beall was arranging multiple co-writing sessions for Mauro in New York in the fall of 2015. Mardin was on the short list.
His credits with a wide range of acts were one qualifier, encompassing Queen Latifah, Aretha Franklin, George Benson, Chaka Khan, Jewel, Ofra Haza, Raul Midon and more. A proficient conductor, composer, songwriter and drummer, Mardin’s global musical knowledge prepared him for the audition.
So too did his lifetime of musical learning, taking place at the side of American music master Arif Mardin, Joe’s father whose 40+ year production and arranging career at Atlantic Records remade the soudtrack of our lives. Arif produced Aretha Franklin, the Bee Gees, Hall & Oates, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Bette Midler, Chaka Khan, Laura Nyro, Phil Collins, Barbra Streisand, and Norah Jones, winning 11 GRAMMY Awards along the way.
From that first meeting, what unfolded for Mardin and CGS was an international voyage of songwriting, producing, tracking, mixing, and discovery. The result was Canzoniere, literally translated as “Songbook” and living fully up to its name, with that aforementioned way of overwhelming again and again.
Mardin told us about his approach to managing international collaborations, and revealed a few of his key studio techniques as well.
The lead single of Canzoniere is “Lu Giustacofane”, released October 27 on Ponderosa Music&Art. You can hear it below:
Long Distance Collaboration Logistics
“Eric invited me to write with Mauro, I listened to their music and loved it — Pizzica, something I wasn’t really familiar with,” Mardin says. “CGS blends traditional instruments and melodies with modern production, traversing both folk and pop songs. A great project! At this point, I was just a co-writer and potential producer of any songs we might write together.”
Once Mardin had committed to the project, there were a number of logistical challenges to be solved. A workflow had to be established that would allow the songs to be written, recorded and mixed for maximum time and cost-effectiveness, even though the action was unfolding over two continents.
While the band wrote some material in Italy, a significant percentage of it — and portions of some of the final tracks — came from the writing sessions and studios of some of Durante’s various New York songwriting collaborators.
“Mauro and I met at my studio in New York, NuNoise and first started work on a song that was in progress, Intra La Danza which I’d help finish,” explains Mardin. “We then started and ended up writing two more songs from scratch. Later I’d help him finish another incomplete song that I thought had promise which he had started writing with the artist, Piers Faccini in England. All four ended up on the album.
“Mauro would take the sessions he started here with the various co-writers and overdub the rest of the band onto the songs back home in Italy,” he continues. “He’d then send MP3’s to the respective co-writers so we could hear the progress. He’d send me the session files or bring them on his next trip, I’d usually import them into the original sessions and we’d continue.
“Somewhere in that process, which involved Mauro coming to New York three times over the span of about a year, he asked me to produce the entire album as a way to bring continuity to—not only all of these songs which employed somewhat varying production styles—but also to the traditional ones we would cut live. Consulting with Eric (Beall) and Mark Gartenberg [CGS’ US manager/publisher] as well as with the head of CGS’ label, Titti Santini at Ponderosa Music&Art, we went into the song selection process.”
Mardin and the team gathered up the session files from the other cowriters as well as the demo sessions for the songs written in Italy, typically arriving as Pro Tools sessions but also as track bounces if they were done in an alternate DAW such as Logic. From there, they determined what they could keep, what they’d need to re-record, and what needed new ideas.
Tracking in Italy
In December 2016 Mardin arrived in Italy for two weeks, with a recording road map all ready to go.
Recording was primarily carried out in Daniele Durante’s basement Pro Tools studio, while overdubs and traditional tracks were cut live at Sudest Studio in Lecce. “Sudest is a great large room which also has a large iso booth — really another room,” says Mardin. “They have an Amek console and a bunch of good mics and outboard. The band also got a last-minute offer to do a gig in Sicily during the recording which they didn’t want to refuse — so it was pretty hectic but a lot of fun and great food of course!
“The brilliant cellist, Marco Decimo also came in from Milan to play on several tracks including on an arrangement I wrote for violin, cello and clarinet on the song, Tienime. Guitarist Justin Adams (Robert Plant, Jah Wobble’s Invaders of the Heart) also came to town to play on the song Aiora.
“In the basement studio, we had some API and Avalon pres, various mics and we rented a Distressor, an 1176 and a couple of GA ribbon mics. The engineering duties in Italy were being split between myself and CGS’ engineer, Francessco Aiello. Let me please give a shout out to the good people at Tedes in Milan and at Soyuz Microphones who kindly loaned us the excellent Soyuz SU-017. We used it on vocals, cello, violin, percussion; a very high class mic that is all over the album.”
Back at NuNoise before Christmas, Mardin went into admin mode, digging into the task of organizing and editing the sessions in preparation for mixing. He sent Mauro Durante MP3’s of his progress prior to his arrival in New York for the final mixing, a process that was ultimately finished after Durante returned to Italy (he and his wife, Silvia Perrone who is the dancer in CGS were expecting and their son, Samuele was born in June.)