Caterina Barbieri, "Fantas Variations"
I was completely floored by the opening "Fantas" when I first heard 2019's Ecstatic Computation, so I was thrilled to discover that it was unexpectedly getting its own well-deserved album of remixes. Given the brilliance of "Fantas" itself and the circle of talented and unusual artists surrounding Barbieri, I never had any doubt that I would enjoy Fantas Variations immensely, but I was still pleasantly surprised by the unexpected directions that some of these variations took, as the source material is damn near unrecognizable in some cases (especially in Evelyn Saylor's startling opener). Naturally, much of the album's draw for me lies in hearing what reliably great familiar names like Kara-lis Coverdale and Kali Malone could do with Barbieri's intense synth opus and I was not disappointed in that regard. However, it is primarily the more unfamiliar artists (to me, at least) who steal the show, particularly on Bendik Giske's haunting saxophone variation and Jay Mitta's hyperkinetic snare freakout that resembles an unhinged, psychedelic Latin dance party or polka-themed nightmare.
Evelyn Saylor‚Äôs hazy and cooing a capella opener sets the bar quite high for bold and audacious interpretations of Barbieri's work, as it almost sounds like it could be a lost vocal movement from Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians, but with a more pronounced vocal jazz influence and some surprisingly intense wails near the end. Later on the album, however, Baseck turns up with the infinitely more bananas "Fantas Hardcore," which sounds like it should be the soundtrack to sped-up footage of some first-person shooter video game or a supernaturally intense rave. Neither of those left-field surprises rank among my favorite pieces on the album, but they certainly illustrate how adventurous and wild some of Barbieri's collaboration choices can be. On the more "safe" end of the spectrum, Walter Zanetti seamlessly transposes "Fantas" for guitar to approximate something akin to a mesmerizing Emeralds demo tape, while both Kali Malone and Kara-lis Coverdale beautifully adapt the piece to their own aesthetics (a breathy, slow-motion pipe organ reverie and a delicate, spidery solo piano performance, respectively). Carlo Maria, on the other hand, turns the piece into a driving bit of thumping synth-driven psychedelia that arguably recalls Emeralds again, but a considerably sexier and more dancefloor-driven incarnation of the band. As great as all of that can be, it is unquestionably Bendik Giske's smoldering and serpentine "Fantas for Saxophone and Voice" that stands as the album‚Äôs most obvious and instantly gratifying masterpiece, though I am also greatly charmed by Jay Mitta‚Äôs half-brilliant/half-ridiculous vision of simply playing the original song, but adding some crazily over-the-top and relentless snare rolls to it. While I never expected Fantas Variations to eclipse Ecstatic Computation, I am nevertheless surprised at how well it succeeds as a weirder and more fun sister album.
Samples can be found here.