Listening to the four members of Satoyama flesh out each track on their third album, Magic Forest, is like watching four skilled painters at work. You can hear that most clearly on numbers like “One Part Per Million,” the second track on the disc, on which the musicians employ their distinct voices to achieve strong textural effects. Trumpeter Luca Benedetto sweeps across the sonic canvas with lengthy strokes, establishing the song’s overall palette while guitarist Christian Russano, bassist Marco Bellafiore, and drummer Gabriele Luttino spray short, sometimes rapid-fire licks. The approach works especially well on the album’s concluding title track, which features Bellafiore’s mellifluous bowed melodies tracing the outline of the group’s enchanted wood.
Sometimes it’s easy to get drawn in by that swirl of textures and timbres. Many of the album’s nine tracks borrow the kind of atmospheric ambience found in house or chillwave music, notably on numbers like “Aral” and “Leave.” There’s a hypnotic effect to the waltzing ballet “Sovation” and the fantastical “Winter Rise,” like a Shakespeare fantasy or European fairy tale. However, like those fables, there’s a more ominous undercurrent. That comes from the environmental worries that inform the spirit of the album.
The messaging is muddied. Activist Lucia Panzieri contributes a charged spoken-word piece in “Dry Land,” and there is an urgency that drives many of the nine tunes, but until Panzieri takes the mic in the penultimate track, you wouldn’t necessarily know about the political aspect. Still, the charming quality of Satoyama’s work makes Magic Forest a worthwhile listen.
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