Born Vincenzo Rao Camemi, this Sicilian violinist/bassist is best known in the West for his fusion of jazz improvisation with the folk traditions of Italy and the Middle East in his group Shamal, which also features frame drum virtuoso Glen Velez and Sicilian saxophonist Gianni Gebbia. Like many children raised in Europe after World War II, Rao grew up divided between a respect for the deep-rooted traditions of his native land and a love for the modern music of the times, especially jazz and funk. After years of performing professionally in Italy, he formed Shamal in the early ’90s to, as he says, “sow the seeds of world music throughout the earth.”



Rao’s only U.S. solo release, Ettna, showcases Shamal’s multitude of talents, with a timeless fusion of styles that seem to know no geographical boundaries. The title track, named after a majestic Sicilian volcano, sets the stage, with funky jazz interludes led by Gebbia’s reedy sax solos interspersed between rhythmically invigorating passages driven by Velez’s Arabic percussion sounds. Mediterranean references abound, with elements of traditions running from Eastern Europe through the Middle East and down to Morocco. A few sounds were directly inspired by Sicilian sources, but Rao’s hypnotic violin solo on “Waiting for You” is as specifically traditional as this wide-rangingly inventive album gets. It’s a solid set that leaves you hungry for more.   –Bret Love

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