A constellation of star names shoot into view, new in April, from Antonio Faraò who is touring this spring with Jazz Messengers legend Benny Golson. 

Quite a procession into and out of the studio on a dozen of the Italian pianist’s extrovert compositions and arrangements, the styles straddling jazz-rock fusion, funk, smooth jazz, R&B and hip-hop, guests including Marcus Miller, Snoop Dogg, Manu Katché and Didier Lockwood.

A spacey showbizzy start to the whole shebang hovers into view right at the beginning featuring a peculiar kind of movie trailer curtain raiser. Skipping on rapidly to ‘Line’ featuring rapper Krayzie Bone (Anthony Henderson to his mum) for a lively bit of cussin’ and no holding back, the high energy radiating outwards a case of harmless entertainment no more no less, Faraò surfacing to fly somehow like Herbie Hancock back in his ‘lost’ 1980s period. Be afraid, be very afraid!

‘Send to You’ has an infectious driving feel to it, the keyboard sounds incredibly soft and velvety to the ear. But the track is a mere marshmallow away from smooth jazzville disaster so be warned in case your threshold for this sort of thing is set to low. Actually bear with it: Faraò’s more straightahead-sounding solo is a blinder, he kind of emerges out of a cocoon and yet then disappears again in a puff of smoke as the programming and synthetic sounds swirl round him like the most mysterious of veils.

Skipping on to ‘Motion’ featuring Headhunters legend Mike Clark I was expecting vintage 1970s jazz funk and was I disappointed? No not all, more off beats pile in than present at your average secret policeman’s ball, and again Faraò plucks yet more intriguing sounds from his keyboard arsenal of effects. And thankfully this has more of a gutsy organic feel, some superb twists and turns in the chord progressions and Clark’s formidable percussive undertow lifts the whole track and album to new improved heights. Nodding along here for the first time I was beginning to enjoy the album that bit more.

Nigel Farage might switch off on ‘Europe’ featuring lively Hungarian singer Claudia Campagnol, Marcus Miller and Manu Katché. So that’s a point in its favour if nothing else. And as with much else on this well meaning if slightly flawed album there is a whole lot of joy here, funky bass guitar from Miller a huge plus. Campagnol turns the track into a real party, the sort of get together where the next track everyone wants the DJ to slap on is bound to be something by Chaka Khan or Whitney Houston and everybody ends up throwing shapes around the up to that point blameless toaster.

I suppose most people hearing about this album will turn first of all to track six ‘News From’ featuring Snoop Dogg, the track opening perkily enough and even a little subdued, Mister Dogg doing well his thang relatively decorously for a while. ‘Quiet’ isn’t at all as quiet as it is billed and again it is surrounded in a whole load of sugar-coated production that here draws to mind Bob James a little bit more than at any time anywhere else. Yet it’s attractive stuff but very poppy, the focus firmly on overcooked melody and big smiles all round. Ah bless.

Campagnol returns again later on as does the always listenable-to Manu Katché featuring on quite a few of the last tracks. I drifted off, I must confess, a little bit here as it gets dancier despite the drummer’s valiant efforts although Katché, lifting his sticks high and settling well behind the beat, drags the record back to far more interesting territory especially on ‘Nueva Quarto’ that opens up for more soloing after its hazy Pat Metheny Group textures at the beginning that never really bed in.

Walter Ricci’s croon swerves the album in another blander direction entirely on ‘Through the Day’ and yet rather than go out at a snoozy pace, last track ‘Rough’ roars into the night featuring French jazz stars Didier Lockwood and Bireli Lagrène complete with the old Hip Bop label 1990s feel injected by Lenny White and updated a whole lot thanks in part to the vast amount of studio kit at the musicians’ and producer’s twiddly disposal so it isn’t too dated. In a jazz supper club this would be the sort of track where punters start getting out of their seats and begin chatting to their friends and heading for the bar even contemplating a bit of ragged dancing because it seems too stupid to just sit when there is so much energy thudding every which way. Lockwood’s electric violin reminds me of Michał Urbaniak a bit in his male menopausal 1990s hip-hop days and the serrated edge of the French legend’s attack gives the track quite a bit of bite.

Faraò is like a ringmaster under a very big top looking for ever more crazy feats. Ultimately suited more to the smooth jazz universe where such flights of fancy are not just tolerated but praised to the rafters Eklektik is quite the circus and certainly high on spectacle even if some of the intrepid jugglers drop some of the balls every now and then. SG