This article first appeared here
Byon August 27, 2012
I have to admit, even though I’m Romanian, I don’t listen to much Romanian music. I have my reasons. The sad truth is my country produces very little in the way of quality music nowadays and if you have any artistic sensibility and any demand for melody or lyrics that stimulate the mind you best steer clear of the radio stations if you ever visit our little corner of Eastern Europe. Now, that is not to say that there are no decent records produced over here. You just wouldn’t know it unless you stumbled across them by accident in a record store, just like I did with this little gem, namely Nicu Patoi & Platonic’s Sweet Little 6String (which I admit I initially read Sweet Little G-String). Now, I was already familiar with Patoi as the guitarists for various bands, most famously for Stefan Banica Jr (a Romanian pop icon who wishes he were a rock’n roll icon) and for Platonic, a band that became pretty well-known for appearing on fellow band-member Berti Barbera’s music-themed TV show Taverna (Romanian for Tavern)
I was already well aware that Nicu is one of the most talented guitarists on the Romanian music scene and I had seen (and been impressed with) Platonic’s performance at the Garâna Jazz Festival in 2009 but this was the first time I had listened to a record by Patoi and his band. The album was released in November 2011 and features twelve songs composed by Nicu Patoi (with themes from Eddie Harris and The Meters used on “Army of Ants”). The band waste no time on intros and start in full-force from the opening tune, “Watermill”, and you can immediately tell that you are dealing with consummate musicians as each of the four members of the band – namely Adrian Ciuplea on bass, Răzvan Lupu on drums, Berti Barbera on percussions and, of course, Nicu Patoi on guitar, as well as various guest-musicians – make great use of their talent and deliver music that is a joy to listen to. For me this truly was the feel-good album of the summer. The music is very melodic, and doesn’t take much getting used to but is at the same time rich and complex and all members of the band get the opportunity to shine in a very fair distribution of “the spotlight”. While all band members do an excellent job I think I was mostly impressed with Adrian Ciuplea’s bass; I have a soft spot for bass when it’s played right, it can make all the difference (see “Come Back”).
Nicu’s playing is flawless, sometimes reminiscent of Stevie Ray Vaughan (“Soul of the Crystal” kind of makes you think of “Lenny” or of Marc Ribot playing “Aurora En Pekin”), sometimes of Al Di Meola (“Mysterious Ways” – one of the best tracks on the record) or Joe Satriani (“The Big Runner”) and even Eric Clapton (“Legacy” immediately made me think of Clapton performing “Tearing us Apart” at Knebworth in 1990).
The record has a very interesting structure to it. Though technically a jazz-piece it starts out sounding more “light” with songs that have hints of pop/rock (perhaps throwbacks to the time he spent playing with various pop singers) but, by mid-record, it starts sounding more “jazzy” with hints of hard rock (especially on the last three tracks). The highlights are, in my opinion, “Sahara Groove”, “Legacy” and “Mysterious Ways” though all the songs include a little something for everyone. The only minor regret I have is that they didn’t make use of Berti Barbera’s good singing voice, it would have been pleasant to hear on at least a couple of tracks. But, then again, Nicu and Berti have a side project where they often act as a duo, with Berti doing vocals and Nicu backing him up on guitar and they do constantly perform together.
I remember that watching Nicu and Platonic perform in 2009 when an acquaintance told me he wasn’t at all impressed with them, that they don’t contribute anything new or groundbreaking to the music industry. Of course, everyone is entitled to their own opinion and there is no accounting for taste but I believe he’s full of shit. Expecting every single artist to be avant-garde or every single piece of music to be an experiment is a sign of an unsubstantial mind and pretentious ambition. As I’ve mentioned before sometimes it’s best to just kick back and enjoy something for what it is. Does Sweet Little 6String change the landscape of music? No! It doesn’t, and it doesn’t have to. What it offers is an hour’s worth of great Jazz performed by exceptionally skilled musicians and I say kudos to them.